Changing The Family Health Culture: Essential to Healthy Lifestyle Success
Written by: Brandy Baxter, MS, RD, LDN
Families have culture beyond what their religion or ethnicity contributes. They also have what can be called a “health culture”. This health culture includes their activity level, eating patterns, grocery shopping style, snack choices, and table habits. Whether healthy or unhealthy, each family has one whether they realize it or not. To be successful with health goals long-term, it is important that a parent not only looks at their own behaviors, but the behaviors that form their family’s health culture as well. If a family uses physical activity as a way to spend time together, then they are all much more likely to be active. If parents both value fruits and vegetables and eat them in front of their kids regularly, not only will their kids be more likely to eat them but the parents will be healthier as well.
However, if one person is trying to make changes alone to improve their health, and their family culture makes it more difficult for them to achieve those changes, then they are less likely to be successful long-term.
For example, lets say Mary is trying to lose weight. She starts by reducing her portion sizes at meals and switches from her favorite soda drink to water. However, she still brings soda into the house for the kids (because she reasons they don’t need to lose weight). Having soda in the house is too tempting for Mary, so she ends up picking up her old habit of drinking it with dinner each night. The culture here in the household is one where you only need to avoid soda if you’re trying to lose weight. However, soda harms everyone’s health regardless of their weight status. Changing the family’s culture to one that focuses not only on weight, but on overall health, will help Mary be much more successful. She will choose healthier beverage options for her family because it is good for everyone’s health, not just for losing weight.
Here are a few ways to develop a family health culture full of healthy habits that will last:
- Start small. Make one or two small changes at a time. You’ll be less likely to get resistance from others in the household this way. For example, switch from white to wheat bread or start taking a family walk every Monday.
- Ask for support. Let others know your intentions. Describe to your spouse exactly how they can help you achieve yours and your family’s health goals. Ask Grandma to provide only healthy snacks when she comes over to babysit. Ask another parent at soccer practice to start taking walks with you.
- Change your shopping habits. Grocery shop with a list and stick to just the items on the list. Leave off less healthy options like chips, sweets, or sodas so that they are no longer a staple in your home. If your family is hungry enough, they will eat the healthier items and even grow to love them over time.
- Give choices. Give kids the option between two healthful items. For example, ask if they’d prefer carrots or green beans with dinner, instead of asking them if they want a vegetable. At snack time, suggest grapes or celery sticks, rather than giving them free reign for snack requests.
- Be firm and consistent. Forming healthy habits takes time and persistence. Sending consistent, healthy messages even when you get kick-back from your loved ones will pay off in the long run! If you only offer healthy snacks part of the time, it sends mixed signals that the new lifestyle is just a “phase.”