Ten Tips to Help Prevent Childhood Obesity

Written by Dr. Jennifer Shaer MD., FAAP., IBCLC

There is a lot of attention these days on childhood obesity. How do cute chubby babies grow into unhealthy overweight children? It’s very easy. Weight management is an uphill battle for everyone. It is only successful for adults when they have the desire and determination to make a change. The problem for kids is that they want what they want, when they want it. Children cannot understand the consequences of overeating and lack of exercise. They cannot be expected to make healthy food choices on their own. It is up to parents to instill healthy eating habits in their kids. Here are a few tips.

Be a role model

Eating healthy is a family affair and children learn by example. It is unreasonable to expect one person in the family to be on a “diet”. Set the house up properly and think of healthy eating and exercise as a lifestyle change instead of a diet. Fill the cabinets and refrigerator with healthy snacks, fruits and vegetables. If the chips and junk food are not there, then they are not an option. If a child is whining that he wants the cookies, it is easy to say “no” if there are none in the house.

Watch portion sizes

There is an absolute distortion of what a portion size is these days. Read labels and measure your food just to get a sense of what a portion size is.

Recognize appetite as opposed to hunger

There is a big difference between appetite and hunger. Offer anyone an ice cream sundae and he will have an appetite. Just because your child will eat an entire plate of cookies, does not mean he is hungry.

Stop making your child clean his plate

It is really important to let your child decide how much he wants to eat. Young children have the ability to actually eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Your job as a parent is to choose what foods to offer and when to offer them. Your child’s hunger should determine how much of the meal he eats. If he chooses to eat very little at one meal, he will eat more at the next. Mealtime should not be stressful.

Do not use food as a reward

There are better ways to reward good behavior than giving junk food. Everyone should be allowed to eat junk food on occasion. The key is to limit unhealthy foods and limit the portions. Good behavior is an expectation aside from food.

Don’t drink your calories

An easy way to watch calorie intake is to drink more water. Kids can absorb a lot of calories by drinking juice, soda and even milk. When drinking milk, choose fat free.

Slow down. It takes time for the brain to realize that the stomach is actually full. If your child eats slower and drinks water while eating then he will get full faster. Do not allow second portions unless he is truly still hungry. Keep the serving platters off the table to make it more inconvenient to reach for a second serving.

Avoid emotional eating

If your kids are bored or happy or sad, then help them find something else to do.

Do not allow your kids to eat in front of the television or computer

Lots of calories can be eaten without even realizing it when you eat in front of the TV.

Be active as a family

Take a walk or go for a bike ride. Get off the couch and get moving.

Dr. Shaer is a pediatrician and a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC). She is director of the Breastfeeding Medicine Center of Allied Pediatrics of New York. Dr. Shaer is dedicated to helping nursing mothers achieve their breastfeeding goals.

Making Healthy Food Choices For Your Children

Written by: Joanna E. Betancourt MD., FAAP

I have many parents that come to our clinic with concerns about their children’s weight. They complain that the children only snack on unhealthy things like chips and cookies and they don’t like to drink water or milk but rather drink sugar drinks.

I often ask parents, where do they get all this junk food and drinks? And they grin or smile back with a little bit of culpability because they know where I’m going with the question. Parents are the ones buying all this stuff and putting it in the pantry. So, it isn’t a big surprise that the child prefers the junk food over the healthy foods.

You don’t have to be a doctor to know that if you give a child a choice between an apple and a chocolate chip cookie, most kids are going to prefer the cookie.

A big part of living lifestyle is making the right food choices. And the responsibility lies within the parents, not the children, because the parents are the ones that make the food buying decisions.

The HealthyChildren.org provides excellent guiding principles to keep in mind when planning and preparing meals for your family. Below are just a few:

  • Vegetables: 3-5 servings per day. A serving may consist of 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, 3/4 cup of vegetable juice, or 1/2 cup of other vegetables, chopped raw or cooked.
  • Fruits: 2-4 servings per day. A serving may consist of 1/2 cup of sliced fruit, 3/4 cup of fruit juice, or a medium-size whole fruit, like an apple, banana, or pear.
  • Bread, cereal, or pasta: 6-11 servings per day. Each serving should equal 1 slice of bread, 1/2 cup of rice or pasta, or 1 ounce of cereal.
  • Protein foods: 2-3 servings of 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish per day. A serving in this group may also consist of 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans, one egg, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter for each ounce of lean meat.
  • Dairy products: 2-3 servings per day of 1 cup of low-fat milk or yogurt, or l’/2 ounces of natural cheese.

Of course, the idea is not to overwhelm your children with drastic changes. However, little by little you can make a difference. For example, if your child wants chicken, it is better to “choose” baked or grilled chicken instead of a fried piece of chicken. Or when giving them a snack, consider pretzels or plain popcorn instead of potato chips.

Keep this in-mind when going to the grocery store next time. And remember, making healthy food choices is part of raising a healthy child.

Dr. Betancourt is a practicing physician. She is a mother of 3 young children (12, 8 and 5). She practices in the western suburbs of Chicago.