Megan Adamson, MD, was determined to get more vegetables into her family’s diet. “My husband and I kept talking about it,” says the mom of three children. “But at mealtime, vegetables always became an afterthought.” Adamson’s solution was simple: make vegetables the entrée as well as the side dish. In other words, adopt a vegetarian diet.
The Duke Primary Care family medicine doctor and her husband have now been on a vegetarian-plus-dairy diet for two years. And although they have not required the diet of their children (they allow them to order meat when they eat out), their oldest, 7, has independently decided to follow in his parents’ footsteps and to not eat meat.
Adamson’s son's decision to choose a healthy diet without being forced is a great example of parents modeling healthy lifestyles for their children. And now there is scientific evidence to support the benefits of this type of parenting.
A 2013 study by Duke Health researchers found that kids whose moms encourage them to eat well and exercise, and model those behaviors themselves, are more likely to be active and healthy eaters.
It sounds like common sense, but Adamson thinks the research is important because it underscores the influence parents have on their children’s health. “I think it should be encouraging to parents to know that they can really make a difference,” she says. And the fact that the study showed healthy modeling had an even larger effect on preschoolers was further proof of its effectiveness. “Because preschoolers spend more time at home than older children, parents can have even more influence on their healthy behavior,” Adamson says.