4‑H believes that True Leaders are healthy leaders. Not only are young people speaking up when it comes to promoting health, but being healthy helps us all reach our full leadership potential.
For more on the connection between healthy living and leadership, we spoke with Becky Johnson, the executive director of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a not-for-profit organization with the mission of ending childhood obesity. Johnson says that healthy habits help kids succeed in all areas of their lives.
What are the most important health habits to teach children?
Becky Johnson (BJ): Our motto at the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation is “healthy decisions that create healthy habits for life.” As a community – parents, schools, healthcare providers, government and non-governmental organizations – we need to educate and inform children and their families about making the best decisions when it comes to diet and physical activity and help them understand the long-term benefits of those decisions throughout their life. By providing families with the products, tools and information they need to achieve a healthy diet and active lifestyle, we are empowering them to establish patterns of behavior that will last a lifetime and that they can pass onto their children.
As for specific healthy lifestyle recommendations, individuals, especially children, should consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein and get 30-60 minutes of physical activity daily. However, it is important for adults and children to also understand that all foods in moderation can fit in a balanced diet and and healthy eating pattern.
How does embracing healthy living help kids learn to lead?
BJ: By embracing healthy lifestyle habits, children become role models for their peers. Peer-to-peer testimonials are a powerful tool in educating and informing other children about the importance of healthy lifestyle decisions. In addition, there is a connection between nutrition and physical activity and academic performance and behavior in children. Young people who have access to nutritious meals and the proper amount of physical activity perform better academically and have less absenteeism and behavioral issues than those who don’t.
What mistakes do most parents make when trying to promote a healthy lifestyle for their children?
BJ: At a very young age, children model their parent’s behavior. If they see mom and dad making healthy decisions and developing healthy habits, many children will adopt those habits as well. So the most important thing parents can do is make healthy decisions and be a role model for their children. Likewise, educating and informing their children about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle is a critical part of the communication process. By making healthy decisions and developing healthy habits, parents and children can avoid obesity and obesity-related diseases like diabetes, stroke and heart disease, and may have a healthier, longer and more active life.
What advice do you give to teens to encourage them to live healthy lifestyles?
BJ: That food and physical activity are fun! We have such a wonderful food environment in this country, and from cooking at home to dining out, there is tremendous access to healthy food choices that are good for you and bursting with flavor. Likewise, there are so many opportunities to get moving. Find the foods, culinary experiences and physical opportunities you enjoy and are passionate about and live life to the fullest.
What are the best things about 4‑H’s healthy living activities?
BJ: National 4‑H Council has been a wonderful partner for the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation and does a tremendous job of promoting overall wellness – including diet, physical activity, mental health and personal safety. These activities build character, leadership and self-esteem that will serve children well now and throughout their adult lives.