Experts describe the best ways to keep children from gaining too much weight.
Food, food, food. The ads, the signs, the daily stories about an epidemic of childhood obesity. Often overweight adults have (pardon the expression) pounds of baggage about teasing, discrimination, and "dieting."
So what is a parent to do if one or more kids seem to be putting on a few more pounds than they seem to need?
Bottom line: All children -- not just overweight ones -- would benefit from eating good quality, healthy, fresh food to use for fuel so they can be active and perform well in daily life.
"Usually, I see several in a family who are above ideal weight," Kattia Corrales-Yauckoes, RD, a nutrition and diabetes educator at the Harvard-affiliated Joslin Diabetes Center, tells WebMD. "But I don't prescribe diets."
Hunger Plays a Key Role
Jean Antonello, RN, author of Naturally Thin Kids: How to Protect Your Kids from Obesity and Eating Disorders for Life, tells WebMD that most kids today are predisposed to gain weight. "Their bodies have a higher famine sensitivity," she says. This means their bodies are more likely to store unburned "fuel" as fat.
"Fat is a survival tool," she says. "Some stressor makes a kid accumulate extra weight. After years of studying this, I have decided that this stressor is hunger. When a kid goes hungry ['No eating between meals!'], he or she tends to overeat, crave sweets and fatty foods, and engage in what we call makeup eating. Going hungry slows metabolism and increases appetite."
Antonello's answer is to offer children high-quality food. This starts with newborns, who are now fed "on demand," where they used to be kept on a four-hour schedule. (Evidence that breastfeeding can prevent obesity in adulthood is not compelling, Corrales-Yauckoes notes.)
Being fed on demand is normal for babies, Antonello contends. And also for 8-year-olds, 14-year-olds, 22-year-olds -- and everyone.
Some toddlers don't even like to eat much -- they pick or scrunch up their faces at everything for a day or two. "This may lead parents to offer sweet or fatty stuff," she says. "Don't. A toddler can get along on a little for a while. Just offer small amounts -- a tablespoon per year of age is plenty of an item for a small child."