Kathleen Tracy | HealthGreatness

For most people malnutrition congers images of skeletal famine victims or poverty-stricken children wasting away from a lack of food. But researchers are finding that malnutrition doesn’t always add up to a lack of calories. Quite the contrary—malnutrition is a reason kids keep eating, proving obesity and malnutrition are not mutually exclusive.

Across the socioeconomic and cultural board, the United States is facing an epidemic, with one out of three children now considered overweight or obese. Some of the risk factors for overweight kids have been well-documented: less physical activity in favor of computer or video console pursuits; an increased homework load leaving children with less down time; and a taste for calorie-laden fast-food.

Happy mother and daughters cooking

But it’s not just how much children are eating; it’s what they are eating. And too often today’s busy families do not make preparing nutritious, home-cooked meals a priority. Researchers believe that when children don’t get all the nutrients the body needs to grow and mature, they body’s cells remain “hungry” and send the signals for the child to keep eating.

Bottom line: we need to feed kids less and nourish them more.

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Most of us assume that if we eat enough calories we’re giving our bodies what it needs to function. The problem is that our reliance on processed foods has reduced our nutritional intake.

Instead of eating fresh fruits, nuts, and veggies, we consume processed foods filled with high fructose corn syrup, refined flours, and trans fats—mostly because they are convenient. But they are also cheaper than fresh produce, which is why poverty is now considered a risk factor for obesity.

Modern malnutrition is a man-made phenomenon. Processed foods tax our biological processes so the more processed food children eat, the more vitamins they need to make up for how hard the body has to work to regulate all the extra sugar we are consuming. But eventually the empty calories overwhelm the metabolism and the result is weight gain.

The cure for the obesity epidemic starts at home with parents promoting a healthy lifestyle and teaching kids about nutrition, the younger the better. Also, introducing kids to a variety of fresh veggies, fruit, legumes, and fruit at a younger age helps expands their palate so they will be more receptive to food that isn’t laden with fat, salt, and corn syrup

Other tips include:

• Everything in moderation. Of course kids should be allowed to watch TV or play games on their computers or cell phones but it needs to be balanced with outdoor play and other activities.

• Focus on good health, not the weight scale. You want to promote a lifetime of wellness and fitness, not an unhealthy obsession with body weight.

• Eat meals as a family as much as possible. And let the kids help prepare the food. Not only is it good bonding time, it can help engage them with food while teaching good eating habits.

• Don’t deprive your kids. Too strict a diet will only lead to overeating. Treating kids to the occasional sweets, pizza night out, and a can of soda here and there won’t derail an otherwise nutritious diet.

• Get creative. Thanks to the Internet you can find dozens of healthy, easy to prepare meals that are not only good for you but taste really good.

• Teach by example. The fact is, parents and adults are role models and kids not only learn by doing, they learn by example. If you adopt a healthier lifestyle, odds are your kids will too.