As I’m about to introduce my young daughter to solid foods, I find myself thinking more and more about how I want to avoid using food as a reward—a practice that seems so ingrained in our culture.
There will be no rewards of sweets when my daughter finishes her vegetables or puts her toys away. There will be no lollipops for behaving well during a haircut or any other activity. Yes, I know. More seasoned parents everywhere are reading this and rolling their eyes thinking, “Just you wait.” But is it so crazy to think this isn’t possible? Why can’t rewards be extra outdoor play time or reading another book at bedtime or letting a child pick the family activity for the day, or even an old fashioned gold star sticker?
These same issues seem to follow us into adulthood. In almost every office I’ve worked, treats always seem to magically appear on Fridays as a defacto reward for making it through another week. Or, how about the promises to buy a friend a drink if they help you out with a favor. Instead of rewarding behaviors with food, what about a manicure or downloading of a new phone app. Surely food (or drink) isn’t the only motivator for people.
As NICHQ CEO Charlie Homer points out in his recent blog post about viewing health as a system, if we really want to improve children’s health, we need to focus not just on improving the quality of care children receive when they go to the doctor’s office; we need to change all influences that affect a child’s health. This includes modeling and practicing healthy behaviors at home, in school and in the community.
Are you willing to break the food reward chain with me? Start small. Pick one time this week when you would have traditionally used food as a reward and pick a non-food reward. See how your reward-receivers (your child, your spouse your coworkers) react and share your experience in a comment on this post. I’ll bet nearly 100 percent of people crave the satisfaction of being rewarded in any form, not necessarily by the food that serves as the reward. Once it works, pick another time and another time to swap in non-food rewards.
If enough of us practice this new behavior, as adults with other adults or as adults with children, it won’t seem so odd after a while and we can start to break the chain.
When I first saw McDonald’s Olympic themed advertising that shows Olympians biting their metals contrasted with good looking, fit, young adults biting into chicken nuggets with the tagline, “The greatest victories are celebrated with a bite,” the marketing professional in me thought that was very clever. The parent and healthcare professional in me were horrified.
There are millions of kids watching the Olympics and dreaming of being the next Ted Ligety or Meryl Davis. They are fantasizing about walking into the Olympic stadium for the opening ceremony in a (probably ridiculous looking) red, white and blue outfit. They are picturing themselves standing on the winner’s podium with a shiny metal around their neck and the US national anthem playing in the background. (Even way past my youth in Olympic years, I’m mesmerized by the Olympic spirit and still hold onto the dream of one day being an Olympian regardless of how unrealistic it is.)
But in between watching Gracie Gold on the ice or Bode Miller on the slopes, nearly every commercial break has that McDonald’s bite commercial. How many kids are seeing this commercial and equating McDonald’s chicken nuggets with being an Olympian? McDonalds is an official sponsor after all and there are easily two dozen Olympians featured in the short ad.
Chobani yogurt is also an Olympic sponsor. They’ve been running ads with the tagline, “It’s one thing to sponsor US Olympians. It’s another to be in their fridge.” I wonder how many kids are watching this commercial and see eating Chobani yogurt as a way to be just like hockey player Zach Parise or snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, both featured in the commercials.
It’s impossible to control the spin that is put on food advertising. However, as adults who make food purchasing decisions for the children in our lives, we have near complete control in deciding what our children eat and establishing and modeling healthy eating behaviors. It’s not like children can get in the car and drive to McDonalds or the grocery store to get yogurt themselves—even though some days that would be nice.
So, I have a challenge for you. Take 5 to 10 minutes this week, and ask the kids in your life (your own, nieces, nephews, neighbors) about what they think US Olympians eat. Ask them about the McDonald and Chobani ads. Do they think eating these foods will help them become an Olympian? Make note of how you respond and post your findings in the comments below. Let’s get a conversation going about how to talk to children about healthy eating behaviors.
The study design included a survey of adolescents to better understand bullying behaviors, including the location, frequency, duration and types of bullies involved.
The study found that:
64 percent of those surveyed reported getting bullied at school (with the risk of bullying increasing relative to the child’s body weight).
Most of the kids suffered bullying for at least one year (78 percent) while over a third (36 percent) had been dealing with bullying for five years.
The most common bullies involved were the child’s peers (92 percent) and even those kids that they considered friends (70 percent).
But one of the most disturbing findings to me is the fact that these children also report being bullied by physical education teachers and sports coaches (42%), parents (37%) and classroom teachers (27%).
I should not be so surprised. I have personally encounted an incident of an adult bullying a child I know well, but until I read this study, I assumed that event was an aberration and that bullying of this kind was nowhere near as prevalent as highlighted in this study.
About 12 years ago we lived in a picturesque community on the coast in what seemed the ideal neighborhood.
In this neighborhood lived a five-year-old boy who was overweight. He loved to run, play and have fun, and one day he was outside playing with some of the other neighborhood children when they all decided to go inside a neighbor’s home. As they walked up to the door the mother of one of the boys greeted them and let them in one by one until she saw this child and yelled, “You are too big to come in and play. Go home!”
This would be devastating to anyone, never mind a five-year-old child. The tears and the pain he felt were heartbreaking. As was the pain felt by his parents. And the impact of this bullying along with many other examples this child endured in this neighborhood lasts to this day.
Now contrast this experience with one I witnessed repeatedly at a dance class for young children in the same community at around the same time. The dance instructor truly connected with each of the children in her class. She set expectations, she encouraged, she shared compassion and empathy for those challenged to perform and honored these children for their individual gifts, regardless of their body types.
My daughter was one of the lucky children in that class. She began dancing at a very young age and developed a special relationship with this teacher, a bond and a trust which she cherishes to this day. Years later, now as a college freshman, she has decided to continue to dance as part of a healthy lifestyle. She has taken it upon herself to research schools of dance and to fund the program of her choice.
My daughter loves exercising (with dance being at the top of the list) and maintains a healthy body image, self-esteem level and perspective on life, thanks in large part to the influence of this teacher from years ago.
Quite a dichotomy between the neighbor’s approach with the five-year-old boy and the dance instructor’s approach to her students…and both will have lasting influence on these children.
Now that I have the opportunity to work for a quality improvement organization with a vision of ensuring each child achieves his or her optimal health, and to process this information through the lens of my own experiences (personal and professional), my heart still breaks for those children harmed by bullying…AND I see great opportunities for improvement:
To meet children where they are while also educating adults as to the impact we can all have on children (both positive and negative).
To bring this perspective to healthcare and expand current thinking around patient-centeredness (child-centeredness) and the patient-centered medical home.
To evolve the medical home concept to a neighborhood perspective where patients and families, neighbors and friends, and coaches and teachers are all engaged to learn and grow and help the children of a community achieve their optimal health (by addressing bullying at all levels as well as many other barriers to children’s safety and optimal health).
To ensure that each child is recognized as unique, and receives appropriate interventions and support that will best position the child to achieve his or her optimal health.
NICHQ has helped lead the patient-centered medical home evolution since the 1990s and continues to do so. Currently, the US healthcare system is struggling with optimizing behavioral health integration into the medical home. We must continue our improvement efforts and to evolve and expand our thinking in this arena even more.
These are invigorating times to be working in healthcare quality improvement with a focus on children. We have a great opportunity to change communities for the better through evolved medical home concepts and I am excited to be part of this ongoing work as NICHQ continues to lead the way.
As a healthcare leader, a coach, a friend, a husband and a father, I have seen the positive impact we can have on children from both a systemic perspective and on a one-to-one basis. At NICHQ I am blessed with an opportunity to do both.