Prevention is Key for Combating Childhood Obesity
An increasing number of children -- at increasingly younger ages -- are developing weight problems. While there are steps that can be taken to help those already overweight, the key for protecting tomorrow's children is prevention.
The Cyclical Effect
Once a child is overweight, he or she is much more likely to be overweight into adolescence and adulthood. Unfortunately, it gets harder to lose weight as one gets older. Studies have shown that adolescents who are overweight become adults who are overweight. Having a parent who is overweight greatly increases a child's likelihood to become overweight. If both parents are overweight, the likelihood is even greater.
Here are some ways to help prevent childhood obesity:
Awareness -- Everyone needs to be aware of the problem and understand how high-fat and high-sugar foods are compromising children's diets.
Activity -- Children and adults need to be more physically active. Exercise does not have to be going to the gym but rather families should add more physical activity into their daily lives by taking walks, going swimming, dancing around the living room, playing tag in the backyard and so on -- fun activities that get everyone moving.
Education -- It's crucial to teach children how to eat right from the very beginning. In addition, parents need to be taught how to feed their children appropriately.
Parental Responsibility -- It's important for parents to take responsibility and realize that their habits are going to affect their kids.
From the Beginning
A child's ideas about food and eating begin early. Breastfeeding has been shown to protect children from becoming overweight. It also is important to let infants self-regulate and stop when they are full, which is often easier when breastfeeding as opposed to bottle-feeding.
Whether a child is breastfed or formula fed, there are important behavioral lessons to teach about eating as soon as they are introduced to solid foods. That said, it is important to note that there is no relationship between weight when a child is under 2 years of age and that child being overweight later in life. It is important not to limit your child's eating when an infant and to allow them to eat when hungry and stop when full.
At least part of a child's eating behavior can be traced to what they learned at the dinner table from his or her parents. Saying things such as, "You must finish your veggies if you want dessert," set up good foods versus bad foods, and the "bad" foods that they can't have are what children are going to want. Separating foods into good and bad makes children want the bad foods, which may result in their sneaking the foods and then feeling guilty about eating them.
Another common command, "You have to finish your plate before you may leave the table," can lead to forced feeding and suggests that children can't regulate their own hunger. While children need help choosing healthy and appropriate foods, even young children should be encouraged to eat only when they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied. Force-feeding can either lead to picky eaters who eat poorly and are underweight or it can teach children to be emotional eaters, which often results in overeating.
If your child refuses to eat something, continue offering that food from time to time because children's tastes change rapidly and they may like the food the next time around. Also, encourage them to try at least one bite each time you offer the food. And always set a good example. If you aren't eating a certain food, such as spinach, you can't expect your child to eat it.
On the upside, introducing a child to solid foods is the perfect time for the entire family to assess what they are eating and how they are approaching food and physical activity. This way, parents can ensure that they are good role models for their children from the every beginning.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Children's Hospital.
Last updated May 8, 2007
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.
Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2002 - 2009 The Regents of the University of California
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