- Obese children are at increased risk of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and bone and joint problems.
- Your child can develop a strong preference for sweets and snack foods, which will make it harder to introduce healthier options.
- If your child is significantly above his or her recommended weight, it might be time to consider taking action to control excess weight.
Public health experts and nutritionists have been sounding the alarm bells about the huge increase in childhood obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity among children has doubled in the past three decades, with all sorts of dire possible consequences. Obese children are at increased risk of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and bone and joint problems.
Yet for parents of young children, this can be a confusing issue. After all, most pediatric organizations recommend at-will feeding for babies, and parents of infants are more likely to worry about their baby eating too little rather than eating too much.
So when should a parent transition from worrying about too little food to worrying about too much? Is it ever too early to worry about weight gain in your baby?
The short answer is yes—sort of. Between the age of 6 months and your baby’s second birthday, he or she will go through many food-related changes, including weaning and introduction to new flavors and consistencies of solid foods. During this time, it’s important to offer lots of different flavors and textures, including vegetables and fruits. It’s also a good idea to avoid too many sweets and snack foods at this stage—your child can develop a strong preference for these foods, which will make it harder to introduce healthier options.
Believe it or not, the earliest signs of obesity can begin to show by age 2. During visits to your doctor’s office, your pediatrician will compare your baby’s weight and height to established growth charts. If your child is significantly above his or her recommended weight, it might be time to consider taking action to control excess weight.
What does this mean? In children, the best approach is to shift toward healthier foods and limit empty calories from sugar and other snack foods. This can especially include sweetened juices and sodas—a single 20-ounce bottle of soda contains up to 18 teaspoons of sugar. It’s also a good idea to increase your child’s physical activity, perhaps with a special weekly trip to the park to play.
Keep in mind, however, that children of this age are not truly capable of understanding the long-term consequences of a poor diet, and they don’t make their own food choices. Consequently, it’s never a good idea to use shame-inducing statements such as “You’re eating too much and getting fat,” which could cause long-term damage to your child’s self-esteem and damage their relationship to eating and food.