Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Children Mirror Parents' Habits Kids Pick Up on How Stress Is Handled

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Children Mirror Parents' Habits Kids Pick Up on How Stress Is Handled

Article excerpt

Being a parent is hard work, and you need to stay healthy for the long haul.

From the time you are eating for two, through the sleepless nights of infancy and into the combat zone of adolescence, being a parent is as much about physical endurance as it is about enduring love.

But there is another reason for you to live as though you are in training for a road race -- your kids are watching.

Researcher Nicholas Zill, president of Child Trends, a Washington think tank, says in his most recent report that the behavior of parents represents an unexpected but very real threat to their children's health.

If we smoke, drink heavily or lead a sedentary lifestyle, we are giving tacit permission to our children to do the same. We can't blame a toxic popular culture or the bad kids in the neighborhood when our children are learning this stuff at home.

"The health of American parents is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that these are the women and men who are raising the next generation of citizens and workers," writes Zill in his report, Setting an Example: The Health, Medical Care and Health-Related Behavior of American Parents.

"How good a job individual parents do depends in part on how physically fit and mentally healthy they are."

The report is based on survey interviews in communities across the United States, and many of the conclusions are almost common sense: low-income parents and parents who lack health insurance are more likely to be in poor health than higher-income parents and those with insurance; more educated parents are less likely to engage in risky health behaviors, but a majority of welfare mothers do.

If you are reading this column, you probably think you are among those higher-educated, higher-income parents who do not have poor health habits. But my guess is, you would admit to a fair amount of stress in your life, and Zill's research demonstrates that stress can be as big a predictor of poor health as income and education.

"It was a very striking finding in the study," Zill said in an interview. "Higher levels of stress are associated with poorer health and a greater incidence of risky health behaviors. …

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