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Implementing Good Eating Habits to Prevent Childhood Obesity

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Childhood obesity increased from 5 percent in 1964 to about 13 percent in 1994. Today, it is about 20 percent – and rising. For most children, overweight is the result of unhealthy eating patterns (too many calories) and too little physical activity. Since these habits are established in early childhood, efforts to prevent obesity should begin early.

Determining if a Child is Overweight

Parents should not make changes to a child’s diet based solely on perceptions of overweight. All preschoolers exhibit their own individual body structure and growth pattern. Assessing obesity in children is difficult because children grow in unpredictable spurts. It should only be done by a health care professional, using the child’s height and weight relative to his previous growth history.

Helping Overweight Children

Weight loss is not a good approach for most young children, since their bodies are growing and developing. Overweight children should not be put on a diet unless a physician supervises one for medical reasons. A restrictive diet may not supply the energy and nutrients needed for normal growth and development.

For most very young children, the focus should be to maintain current weight, while the child grows normally in height.

The most important strategies for preventing obesity are healthy eating behaviors, regular physical activity, and reduced sedentary activity (such as watching television and videotapes, and playing computer games). These preventative strategies are part of a healthy lifestyle that should be developed during early childhood. They can be accomplished by following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Dietary Guidelines provide general diet and lifestyle recommendations for healthy Americans ages 2 years and over (not for younger children and infants).

Promote a Healthy Lifestyle

Parents and caregivers can help prevent childhood obesity by providing healthy meals and snacks, daily physical activity, and nutrition education. Healthy meals and snacks provide nutrition for growing bodies while modeling healthy eating behavior and attitudes. Increased physical activity reduces health risks and helps weight management. Nutrition education helps young children develop an awareness of good nutrition and healthy eating habits for a lifetime.

Children can be encouraged to adopt healthy eating behaviors and be physically active when parents:

– Focus on good health, not a certain weight goal. Teach and model healthy and positive attitudes toward food and physical activity without emphasizing body weight.
– Focus on the family. Do not set overweight children apart. Involve the whole family and work to gradually change the family’s physical activity and eating habits.
– Establish daily meal and snack times, and eating together as frequently as possible. Make a wide variety of healthful foods available based on the Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children. Determine what food is offered and when, and let the child decide whether and how much to eat.
– Plan sensible portions. Use the Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children as a guide.