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Food Restriction May Cause Child Obesity

Restriction Linked to Weight Gain in High-Risk Kids
WebMD Health News

Oct. 4, 2004 -- Limiting how much kids eat seems to increase the chances that some kids will become overweight, researchers say.

In a new study, the association between food restriction and kids being overweight was only seen in kids at high risk of becoming overweight. Researchers say that kids whose moms were overweight before getting pregnant were much more likely to be overweight themselves by age 7.

Researchers from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia report the findings in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"Our conclusion is that there is an association over time between restrictive feeding patterns and increased weight gain in children, but in our study, it was limited to children who are more vulnerable to becoming obese," researcher Myles S. Faith, PhD, tells WebMD.

Nature and Nurture

The study included 57 families. Based on the mother's prepregnancy weight, children in the study were determined to be at high risk or low risk for becoming obese. Weight and height were recorded for all children at ages 3, 5, and 7.

Parents completed a questionnaire evaluating their attitudes about feeding their children. Researchers assessed whether parental feeding styles at age 5 predicted their children's weight two years later.

This finding reinforces the belief that genetic and environmental influences interact to determine body weight in early childhood, the researchers say.

"An implication of our findings is that childhood overweight and prevention programs may benefit from being tailored to family characteristics, such as a child's risk for overweight or current weight status, rather than using one set of guidelines for all families," the researchers wrote.

Get 'Em Moving

Nearly one in six children in the U.S. is overweight, leading the American Academy of Pediatrics to declare that childhood obesity has reached epidemic levels. The AAP recently weighed in on the problem in a published statement that calls on parents to emphasize "healthful [food] choices rather than restrictive eating patterns."

Faith agrees, telling WebMD that instead of restricting foods, parents can positively influence their young children's eating habits by making sure healthy food choices, such as fruits and vegetable, are readily available. Bypassing the cookies and sugary sodas during your next trip to the grocery store and stocking up on apples, grapes, and other good-for-you foods that kids like is a good start.

"Just like adults, young children like having choices when it comes to the foods they eat," he says. "But parents still decide what foods are available in the home. The idea is to create a healthier environment for everyone and that means making healthier choices available."

Getting kids to be more active is another critical step in the battle against childhood obesity. A study reported earlier this year by Children's Hospital colleague Nicolas Stettler, MD, showed a direct link between the hours spent watching television or playing video games and obesity.

Stettler, who is a pediatric nutritionist, tells WebMD that sedentary activities such as TV watching and video games should be restricted to two hours a day or less.

"That may sound like a hard thing for a parent to do, but imposing limits is a very important part of parenting," he says.

He agrees that establishing healthy eating patterns early on is also an important step for reducing a child's risk of becoming overweight.

"A young child that has good eating habits is likely to keep those habits," he says.

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