Nicole Keller, DO, FAAP
Pediatrician, Rush Copley Medical Group
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that children who are overweight when they start kindergarten are far more likely to be obese by the time they become teenagers. The study followed more than 7,700 U.S. children through grade school. When they started kindergarten, 12 percent were obese and 15 percent were overweight. By eighth grade, 21 percent were obese and 17 percent were overweight. Overweight five-year-olds were four times more likely to be obese by age 14 than children who started kindergarten at a healthy weight.
This study is telling parents some important information – start healthy habits early. It is far more difficult to treat obesity once it occurs. Many adults fight the battle of being overweight and yo-yo dieting their entire lives. By starting healthy habits early and being good role models we can help children avoid the stress of trying to change bad health habits by showing them the right ones from the start.
Here are some tips to get you and your family started:
Control portions and watch snacking – Keep portion sizes appropriate. Vegetables and fruits should be offered with meals and as snacks starting from when kids can first have solid foods and on to adulthood.
Cut out sweetened beverages – This includes soda pop, juice and sports drinks. Make them a treat on special occasions and if you use them more often, dilute them with water.
Get everyone moving – Make physical activity a part of everyday life for the whole family. Everyone goes for a walk, plays a fitness video game or does vigorous exercise during commercial breaks during favorite TV shows.
Drink more water – Many times hunger is mistaken for thirst – offer water first, if there is still hunger 15 minutes after a cup of water was given, offer a healthy snack.
Make healthy cooking and eating a family affair – When grocery shopping, avoid buying chips and other processed foods. Skip fast food restaurants. Look for sales on in season fruits and vegetables and get creative with free recipes available online. Substitute olive oil for butter, don't add extra salt or sauces and make sure everyone in the family follows these healthy rules at mealtimes.
Parents who are concerned about a child’s weight should talk with their child’s doctor. By starting early in life you can instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime.