Teaching Toddlers Healthy Eating Habits to Avert Childhood Obesity

Family eating dinnerChildhood obesity is being discussed more often and well it should be. In the United States more than 30% of our children are overweight. This number has been increasing yearly. It is important every member of the family develops healthy habits for life. The following questions make up a brief lifestyle evaluation; they may help you to identify the good choices you are already making and those that could be improved.

Does your child eat breakfast every day?

Everyone seems to know that “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Because children’s brains and bodies are rapidly growing and developing, they depend on getting a regular supply of energy. Going for long periods without food can cause physical, developmental and behavioral problems. Skipping breakfast is also linked to the development of obesity. By eating breakfast, you are less likely to over eat later in the day and are able to increase your ability to burn calories. The benefit of a well-balanced breakfast is worth the time and effort it takes to add it to the morning routine.

Do the kids eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day?

Fruits and vegetables are an important source of vitamins, minerals and fiber that their growing bodies need. Eating fruits and vegetables decreases the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health problems as we age. With some effort, creativity and practice, they can be added to meals in ways the kids will come to accept and enjoy.

Do you limit how much sweetened drinks the kids drink?

Sweet drinks, including juices, sodas, and sport drinks are related to a number of health-related issues. They add empty calories and large amounts of sugar to our diets increasing the risk for obesity and dental decay. Often children “fill up” by drinking and then reject nutritious foods because they do not feel hungry. By limiting a child’s choices to water and low-fat milk, you can often be more successful encouraging picky eaters to eat more and a better variety of foods.

Is your family physically active for at least 1 hour per day?

Physical activity is important to maintain a healthy weight, preventing chronic diseases. It also helps build healthy bones and muscles, increases self-esteem and confidence, and boosts memory and school performance. There are many ways to increase a child’s activity level; any activity that gets body moving is considered exercise. Being a good role model and creating a family fitness plan can improve success and make it more fun for everyone.

Do you limit “Screen Time” to less than 2 hours per day?

Screens are everywhere making limits more difficult and more important to enforce. Excessive time using electronics is linked to weight gain, the development of medical problems, and behavioral, social and academic issues. Making suggestions for alternative activities, removing televisions and computers from bedrooms, and restricting their use to certain times are just some strategies that can be used to fight this battle.

Do the kids snack frequently or eat when they are bored? Do you often use food as rewards?

As much as 1/3 of a child’s calories may be eaten between meals. Snack foods are more likely to supply more empty calories and fewer nutrients than those foods eaten at meals. Like drinking too much sweet drinks, this can lead to pickier eaters and weight gain. Think about when and what foods you offer, eat together as a family more often, and suggest activities to help cope with boredom.

A discussion with your pediatrician can help you find resources and programs that can help in your efforts. Just remember any positive change no matter how small can benefit your family’s health.

Pamela Schoemer, MD, FAAP (CCP – Moon and CCP – Wexford)