Today’s preschooler is at risk for gaining too much weight. About 13.9 percent of children aged 2-5 years are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). How young children are fed, what they eat, and other lifestyle factors greatly influence how well they grow and their weight status. Would you believe that preventing your 4-year-old from gaining too much weight is as easy as getting some basic household routines in place? It’s true!
A 2010 study in Pediatrics found that certain routines protected preschoolers from gaining too much weight. In fact, these routines curtailed overweight and obesity in the preschooler by a whopping 40 percent! Simple and relatively easy to do, here are three key routines researchers identified that will help prevent your preschooler from gaining too much weight:
Family meals have a positive impact on food choice, self-regulation of eating (eating the right amounts of food), and family bonding. In the Pediatrics study, families sat and ate together 6-7 times each week. The meal environment should be positive and supportive, as negative interactions at the table may have an opposite effect on healthy eating. Get this habit established early on– even before the preschool years—and not only will your preschooler benefit now, but as he grows he will as well.
Tip: Family meals can occur at any time: breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even at snack time. Sit together, minimize distractions and focus on each other.
Researchers found that preschoolers who got at least 10.5 hours of sleep each night were less likely to gain excess weight. Sleep is important for proper growth and development, and inadequate sleep has been correlated with higher weight status in children, teens, and adults.
Tip: Get a bedtime routine started. It could include bath time, book time, or an evening snack. One approach: Target bedtime between 7-8 pm with a bath and a book beforehand, and expect to see your preschooler around 6-7 am. Of course, figure out what works best for your family!
Limit TV time
Researchers suggested preschoolers who watched less than 2 hours of TV per day were less likely to gain weight. Even watching educational programs is a sedentary activity so it’s good practice to limit this. Children who sit are not moving, and this can be a contributor to weight gain.
Tip: To minimize the urge to turn on the TV, have some alternative activities up your sleeve–arts and crafts, imaginary playtime, construction blocks/Legos, reading time, music/dancing time, puzzle time and park visits–schedule these as part of the day.
Why are routines so effective?
Children are creatures of habit—they thrive on predictability. Having a routine taps into this, promoting security, knowing what to expect and perhaps a sense of calmness.
When children are young, it is far easier to establish routines because crazy schedules, homework and other obligations associated with the older child haven’t taken over their day yet.
Additionally, the routines of family meals, sleep and limited TV time, once established, are easy to carry into the older years.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, September 2020
- Healthy home routines can help the preschooler avoid unhealthy weight gain.
- Family meals, regular sleep patterns and limits on TV time are all healthy routines to establish early in childhood.