Trying to fix the problem of overweight children can become a sticky issue. Parents often don't want input from outsiders. They are taken aback or may feel guilty when someone mentions that their toddler is a bit on the heavy side. Even some doctors are a bit on the reserved side when dealing with the issue, for fear of upsetting their patients. But to truly tackle the obesity problem with children in this country, people will need to move away from their fears and reservations about addressing the issue honestly.
Everyone—from parents to grandparents to daycare centers and babysitters—has an influence on the eating habits of toddlers. As they move into being school age, schools also have an influence on what children eat and how physically active they are. Parents should be proactive about encouraging schools to limit the unhealthy food options available to children.
"Pediatricians follow growth carefully on standard growth curves," Dr. Olson says. "Parents should be aware that their doctors are doing everyone a favor by pointing out disturbing trends in weight increase and, hopefully, doing things to combat this."
A key component for parents is what behaviors they are modeling. Children are quick to learn by watching others, so it's important that parents consider what type of example they are setting through their own eating and activity level.
According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), research shows that when mothers pressure their young daughters to eat more healthy foods, the children tend to do the opposite. They report that the most effective way to get them to eat more fruits and vegetables is to lead by example. Children who see their parents frequently eat healthy food are more likely to do so themselves.
Want to get on the road to family health, but not sure where to start? The AAP recommends starting with one of these four behaviors:
- 5—Eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day.
- 2—Limit screen time (television, computer, video games) to two hours each day, and children younger than 2 should have no TV time at all.
- 1—Strive for one hour of physical activity each day.
- 0—Limit sugar-sweetened drinks.
- Eating breakfast everyday
- Eating low-fat dairy products like yogurt, milk, and cheese
- Regularly eating meals together as a family
- Limiting fast food, take-out food, and eating out at restaurants
- Preparing foods at home as a family
- Eating a diet rich in calcium
- Eating a high-fiber diet
In addition to these "5, 2, 1, 0, goals," the AAP also suggests that families make small changes in their routines, and encourages these activities to help prevent childhood obesity: