Childhood obesity is a rapidly growing concern. Even from an early age, children who are overweight have a tendency to become obese adults. The once commonly held belief that obesity is not an issue until kindergarten is not accurate. Up to 10% of babies and 20% of preschoolers are overweight. During the early years, there is much that parents can do to prevent toddler obesity, while promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Parents have the most control over the diet of young children, making this the best opportunity to set them up for a fit and robust future. It is not always easy to know if a child is actually overweight just by sight.
Parents, pediatricians and child care providers serve as partners in raising a healthy child.
The doctor is best able to monitor the child’s weight and height, using national percentile rankings. Tracking changes from each well child appointment allows the pediatrician to identify issues early on, before they become serious health concerns. Rapid weight gain without growth in height can set children up for risk of prediabetes or Type II diabetes. Parents should ask their pediatrician “Is my child an appropriate weight for her height and age?”
Parents should ask their child care provider questions to determine their policies and practices with regard to meals, snacks, active play, disciplinary actions, and screen time. All of these play a role in the development of a healthy child who is physically active. Some tips for parents with regards to child care providers:
- Infants should be allowed to play freely with adequate supervision. Parents should be alert to practices that include putting infants and children less than one year old in passive devices such as swings, high chairs, and cribs for longer periods of time than necessary.
- Meals and Snacks should be healthy with no soda or sugar filled drinks, and few pre-packaged foods
- Children should not be required to finish everything on their plate or in their bottle
- Limit cumulative screen time to 30 minutes per half day program or 60 minutes per full day program
- Encourage adequate rest and sleep as age appropriate. Studies show that lack of adequate sleep increases the risk of becoming an overweight toddler.
- Do not link discipline or punishment with withholding food or prevention of active play.
The biggest influence on a child’s future health is the lifestyle in the home. The prevention of obesity is significantly better than working to correct it once it develops. Right from the start, making the commitment to breastfeeding is the best opportunity to lay a good foundation for overall health. Other tips include:
- Encourage healthy eating habits for everyone in the family. Portion size is important in addition to the use of quality food ingredients.
- Keep only healthy snacks in the home. Nuts, fruits and vegetables are some good options.
- Become committed to reading labels and understanding the nutritional value of foods marketed towards your child. Watch for hidden sugars and excessive preservatives
- Make water available to quench your child’s thirst. Children should not consume either diet or regular soda.
- Help kids stay active. Participate as a family with daily routines that include walking, riding bikes, swimming, and lively play.
- Limit TV, video games and other screen time. Rest is important but passive sedentary time is not helpful.
- Make sleep important. Lack of quality and adequate sleep has become increasingly problematic and contributes to weight gain. Children under 3 are among those who are not getting enough sleep.
Ultimately, parents should model the behaviors they want to see in their children. Children learn more from what they see than from what they hear.
If you are concerned that you have an overweight toddler, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician. Programs exist which can help the whole family, and the child, learn life-changing behaviors and lay the foundation for a healthy future. Call Wellspring Camps at 1-844-785-0475 for help determining a program that best fits the needs of your family.