Unhealthy Eating Patterns and Childhood Obesity
How concerned should I be about my overweight child’s health? Why limit my child’s consumption of fast foods and sugar? What can I do to help combat my child’s unhealthy eating patterns? Isn’t it just baby fat?
Ways to encourage a healthy weight for your child
Healthy eating patterns should start when your child is an infant. You can set the standards by choosing healthy foods for your child, including nutritious snacks and meals, avoiding sugar and soft drinks, and maintaining a consistent feeding pattern. Body Mass Index (BMI) is used by most medical and dietary professionals to determine healthy weight. Visit the CDC web site on Body Mass Index for children to learn more about BMI and to determine the healthy body mass for your child: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/bmi-for-age.htm. Since eating patterns are a learned behavior, if your child has bad habits now, it will take time and effort for him to “unlearn” those unhealthy behaviors. Here are a few tips for helping your child improve his nutritional health:
- Model good behavior. Your child looks to you for guidance in all things, and eating’s no different. Everyone in your family will benefit from healthy eating patterns.
- Focus on health. Focusing on weight loss or change may become discouraging and can negatively alter your child’s body image. Instead, focus on becoming healthier, improving physical ability, cardiovascular health, and stronger muscles and bones. Work with your pediatrician and a professional dietitian to reinforce the health benefits of healthy eating habits and weight management. Get moving.
- Encourage your child to participate in school or community team sports, martial arts, or other motivational activity. Healthy weight usually isn’t achieved long term without the element of exercise. Besides, it will be a great way for your child to build self-esteem and make new friends! See our section on Physical Activity for more information. Set goals.
- Decide to walk or run an upcoming charity road race together, set a goal to eat five fruits and vegetables each day for a week or month, or make up your own fun goals. Reward achieved goals.
- Tangible rewards are a great way to motivate your child. Don’t use food as a reward, instead try these fun rewards: a movie night, a hiking or camping trip together, or new sports equipment.
Why limit fast foods and sugar?
The consequences of not addressing your child’s unhealthy eating patterns are very serious. Consider the following statistics:
According to a recent study from Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “early childhood obesity is the most potent predictor of obesity five years later, suggesting that to be effective, intervention to prevent obesity in childhood and adolescence must begin at a very early age.”
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys recently released research that shows 10 percent of toddlers ages 2 to 5 years old are seriously overweight.
Children who are overweight are much more likely to be overweight or obese as adults.
Studies show that individuals who are 20 percent or more overweight run a greater risk of developing type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and some forms of cancer.
Healthy amounts of fat are required in every diet, including children of all sizes, for normal cellular and neurological development and maintenance. Extremely low-fat diets can have detrimental effects too— the key is moderation. Generally, children should enjoy full-fat foods (whole milk, cheese, etc.) until around 2 years, and should enjoy lower fat choices thereafter.
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