First person: Diabetes diagnosis motivates a mom to fight childhood obesity risks at home

Almost one third of US kids are overweight or obese. But in some cities and communities across the nation, rates are improving. Everyday heroes are turning the tide against childhood obesity and helping to improve the health of their families. When Cindy, a mom of three from a suburb of Detroit, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes she realized that here whole family was at risk. She set out to make changes.  One of the major adjustments was to eat healthier foods.  Now, fruits and veggies are part of every meal she serves.

The importance of such home-based changes are significant, as documented by one Duke Medicine study recently published in the International Journal of Obesity. According to the study of 190 children ages two to five, moms who model healthy behaviors around exercise and eating, and who encourage their children in those behaviors, make a quantifiable difference in their children’s behavior.

Cindy’s story: The fight against childhood obesity risks starts at home

When I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes I knew what I needed to do. My son was also a big kid. I didn’t want him to turn out to be diabetic—and he was heading in that direction.

Our family adopted a diet that is based on simple principles. Each meal consists of low-fat protein, one healthy starch, one fruit, and all of the vegetables you can eat.  My mom created an image of a plate with those requirements on it.  The plate is always posted on our family’s refrigerator.  It’s a fun, easy way to remind everyone in our family of our goals.

The hardest thing is learning the products in the store that you shop at. It’s figuring out the brands that you like, where they are in your store, and what your staple foods that you like to eat are. I encouraged the kids to try foods like kiwi, Brussels sprouts, and spinach.  When my son wouldn’t eat onions, we had him try sweet Vidalia onions.  Now he loves them.

Veggies: Tool number one in the childhood obesity arsenal

We eat whipped, cooked cauliflower with a little butter instead of mashed potatoes. We bring blueberries with us for snacks in the car.  We really like the foods we grow ourselves. We tried to make eating healthy fun by planting our own vegetable garden, so we grow our own cherry tomatoes, broccoli, onions, carrots and blueberries.

My kids have even changed what they eat on special occasions to include healthier foods.  Our kids gave up traditional birthday cakes and have watermelon cakes instead.  We cut the watermelon in half, decorate the outside with markers, and stick the candles in the fruit. Even the kids’ friends thought it was a cool idea.

Cindy’s tips

  • Ask your kids to try a new food three times before they decide if they like it or not.
  • Identify healthy options at your local store, and then work with your family to find favorites that are your “go-to” staples.
  • Make a game out of trying new foods.
  • Use online resources to get ideas on preparing healthy foods or track your meal plans.
  • The only extras on the dinner table should be vegetables. Dish out meats and starches at the stove. The only second helpings should be vegetables.

Hear more of Cindy’s storyTo read more tips from Cindy and other families who’ve adopted healthy habits to combat childhood obesity in their own homes, visit, and order or download your free copies of A Year of Being Well: Messages From Families on Living Healthier Lives.