Is it my fault that my child is overweight?
Is your child overweight? Are you to blame? A new study from the University of Illinois’s Child Development Laboratory sheds new light on the main risk factors for obesity in young children. The study, published in the October issue of the journal Childhood Obesity, suggests there are three areas that provide pediatricians and parents an opportunity to intervene when young children are overweight. Here are three things you can do to keep your little one healthy:
- Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep. Research has found there is an association between lack of adequate sleep and obesity. Stick to a healthy sleep routine to reduce your child’s risk. Set an early bedtime and have a structured nap schedule during the day. In my house, the strict 7:30 bedtime gives my children the rest they need and gives me some much-needed peace and quiet at the end of a busy day!
- Keep in shape yourself. Parents with a high body mass index (BMI) tend to have children who follow in their footsteps. Whether you blame genetics or too much eggnog over the holidays, only you can control your own choices regarding diet and exercise.
- Don’t restrict your child’s eating habits. In other words, don’t put your toddler or preschooler on a diet. Automatically labeling certain foods as “bad” will only increase their desire for that food. Instead, provide healthy options and let them choose what they want.
Researchers found that parents tend to pass their food preferences on to their children. If your child sees you enjoying potato chips and candy bars for a snack instead of fruits and veggies, they will imitate you. Furthermore, research suggests that these preferences are firmly established in the first few years of life. Be careful about the foods you keep in the house, for both you and your child. I could probably eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but I try to model moderation and healthy choices when it comes to food in the house, leaving the chocolate for a small after-dinner treat or a special occasion.
As a side note, research shows that parents also pass their activity preferences on to their children. So if your little one sees that you enjoy sitting in front of the television or computer, they are much more likely to choose sedentary activities as well. Instead, encourage a variety of activities that get your toddler or preschooler moving and the calories burning. My gym membership has not gotten much use lately, but I chase the soccer ball and freeze dance like a pro. And when my children see me moving around and having fun, they want to join in too.
The good news is that these three risk factors—lack of adequate sleep, increased parental BMI, and restriction of the child’s eating habits to control weight—can be modified if a parent is motivated to change. By changing the food environment in your house, you will be promoting healthy choices…for both you and your child!