How your upbringing affects your mindset of health

Lynette Lacock shares how your upbringing affects your mindset of health but adds that it’s never too late to change and become the family health influencer.

During your lifetime you have so many things that influence the way you think about your health. Upbringing is one of them; since you spend most of your formative years with your families, they play a big part in forming your opinions about what you eat, how much you exercise and how well you look after yourself.

In primary school I had a very obese friend in my class. Our health teacher had us all support him in his quest to lose weight. We learned about healthy diets and activities by coming up with different ideas to help him achieve his goal. During this time another student asked him how he put on the excess weight. He told us a story about how his grandmothers and aunties were always giving him food and he was always expected to finish everything on his plate. Because he was an obedient little boy, he did as they expected and overate in the process. His family were first generation immigrants coming from a place where food security was uncertain, and people often went hungry to a place where they now had enough food on a regular basis. So, to them, having a chubby-cheeked little boy was a blessing.

Even though this is an extreme example, you can see how family can influence your behaviour when it comes to the healthy or unhealthy choices you make and the behaviours you may go on to teach our own children one day.

Multiple factors leading to your ultimate health beliefs

The way you live your life and think about your health today goes way back to things that you probably never really thought had anything to do with each other. Even children in the same family may have been influenced differently although they experienced the same things. For instance, one parent may have been active and fit and the other was sedentary and unfit. Many years later, one child emerged as an active adult and the other a sedentary adult.

We have to also look at cultural influences. These influences can play a part in the foods you chose to eat and how much of it you eat. Some ancient civilisations saw obesity a sign of wealth and prosperity. These beliefs still exist today in some parts of the world even though obesity can put you at risk for a variety of chronic conditions.

Are you living the same lifestyle as your parents?

Families share lifestyles and environmental factors that influence choices and decisions regarding health. Some families encourage physical activity, such as hikes and sport, while some encourage watching TV or playing video games. Did your family always snack between meals? Or were you offered a piece of fruit instead?

You will tend to mimic your parents thinking without realising it because that was the way it was done in your family since you were a child.

There are also environmental factors that affect your lifestyle such as water quality, food security, access to healthcare and pollution.

Chronic conditions management in your family

You may have family members that have chronic illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension. How did they deal with the treatment of their chronic illness? Did they change their lifestyle to control that chronic illness? Or did they not take it seriously and make the condition worse? These learned behaviours may influence the way children will address any of these conditions when they grow up.

Where did you learn to eat like that?

Your eating habits are acquired at a young age, again influenced by how meals were consumed in your home. Eating together provides time for families to reconnect and talk about their day and share food together. Gathering for a family meal is still popular today but doesn’t always happen due to everyone’s busy schedules.

Was your family so busy that most of you ate separately and on the run? Did you eat dinner in front of the television? Did you have high carbohydrate snacks available to eat whenever you wanted? Did you have to eat everything on your plate even if you weren’t hungry anymore?

Take charge and promote good habits in your family

  • Family meals are preferable to eating separately. Children find security in schedules so eating together every night can be soothing for a little one at the end of a busy day. It’s also a good time to encourage that they eat the healthier foods on their plate.
  • Stress increases cortisol and decreases digestion time so make time to settle everyone down before you sit down to eat.
  • Don’t eat in front of the TV too often because you may tend to eat more than you normally would.
  • Avoid eating on the run. A quick, easy meal or snack is more likely to be unhealthy.
  • An easy rule of thumb is that most processed fast foods come in a wrapper or packaging. Since these foods are made in advance they are full of preservatives, salt and, most likely contain, no vegetables. It’s best to avoid them as much as possible.
  • Learn about healthy ways to control chronic conditions if you haven’t already and share this with your children.
  • Try to do a form of exercise that includes the whole family. Walking is the easiest and everyone can go at their own pace.  Let your children get used to being active.
  • Explain good habits and why you are doing them to the elders in the family, so they can understand and help influence the younger children.
  • When everyone is hungry for a snack try to have healthy options on hand.
  • Be aware of what you’re putting in the lunch boxes. Add more fruit rather than chips and sweets.
  • Take advantage of the early years when you, as parents, are the main influence in your child’s life and be a role model when it comes to healthy living.

It’s never too late to change your mindset and become the family health influencer.


  1. Family Dynamics and Health
  2. How do our family, friends and community influence our health?
  3. How Does Family Play An Important Role In Health?
  4. Family Relationships and Well-Being Patricia A Thomas, PhD,1 Hui Liu, PhD,2 and Debra Umberson, PhD3
Sr Lynette Lacock


Sr Lynette Lacock received her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and Biofeedback Certification in Neurofeedback in the US. She has over 30 years’ experience in healthcare which has enabled her to work in the US, UK and South Africa. Initially specialising in Cardiothoracic and Neurological ICU, she now works as an Occupational Health Sister. She is passionate about teaching people how to obtain optimum health while living with chronic conditions.