As child psychologist, I’m often asked if I notice a significant difference between today’s kids and those of a generation ago. I answer, “Yes” and go on to explain that I have never seen so many fat children as I see these days.
There are kids in my waiting room that can’t sit up straight in a chair because their stomachs are so big. Some youngsters literally waddle into my office because there’s no space between their legs.
What amazes and disappoints me is the cavalier attitude of many parents toward their child’s obesity. Instead of acknowledging the problem and the serious health concerns it presents, they dismissively note, “Oh, she’s just chubby.” Or, “He still has his baby fat.” They might use the euphemism “big-boned” or a questionable term of endearment – “butterball,” for example.
Of course, the medical news characterizes the situation much differently. Here are a couple of recent headlines about the childhood obesity epidemic:
“U.S. CHILDREN DEVELOP BAD EATING HABITS BEFORE AGE 2.”
“THE NUMBER OF OVERWEIGHT CHILDREN HAS DOUBLED IN THE LAST 2O YEARS.”
Unfortunately, as any pediatrician can tell you, it’s extremely difficult to change the eating habits of obese children, particularly if a parent is, or both parents are, overweight.
That’s why it’s imperative to teach kids from a very young age how to eat properly, and to get the whole family on board with healthy eating habits.
I have asked a number of parents who succeeded in teaching their children healthy eating habits to share their strategies with me. Here’s what they said.
Many begin encouraging their children to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and other good food from an early age —as young as eight months. They stressed how important it is to introduce children to bright, colourful, healthy foods that have a “sweet” taste to them. Some examples are carrot strips, slices of green peppers, cherry tomatoes, raw green beans, bananas, oranges, strawberries, grapes and raisins. (A safety note: Some of these foods should be avoided with babies, or cut into pieces small enough to avoid choking hazards.)
Food-conscious parents tell me that they avoid processed foods, which are often high in salt, calories and fat. They’re similarly reluctant to indulge in fast food for the same reason. You won’t find soda in their homes, either, because it’s high in sugar and makes you feel hungry after drinking it.
What I learned from these parents is that by starting their children off at a very young age they actually train them to eat and enjoy vegetables and fruits. When they’re used to eating healthy foods kids aren’t constantly craving, or nagging their parents for, cheeseburgers, pizza, wings and fries. I don’t mean to imply that junk food must be forever banished from the family diet. But like so many things, the key is always moderation.
I hope these parents’ tips will help you teach your young children sound eating habits. In doing so you encourage them to lead healthy lives, an invaluable gift that will last them a lifetime.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.