Baby Fat Hangs Around
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
Health, Wellness, & Safety
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A review of data gathered as part of the ongoing Early Childhood Longitudinal Study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine reports some startling findings on childhood obesity.
- Babies who weigh more than nine pounds at birth are more likely to be heavier in grade school. More than one-third of overweight elementary school children were big babies.
- Children who are overweight in kindergarten are four times as likely as other children to be obese by middle school. During kindergarten, 5% of children who weren’t overweight at the start of the year became overweight by the end of the year.
- The period of greatest change from “normal” weight to obesity happens in early elementary school, between first and third grades. Patterns of overweight change very little between 11 and 14. Nonetheless, between ages 5 and 14, almost 12% of children are or become obese: 10% of girls and nearly 14% of boys.
What does all this mean?
- It means that a tendency to become overweight and obese starts early – even at birth.
- It means that children at the age when we might regard chubbiness as cute and just “puppy fat” actually are at risk for maintaining their extra poundage throughout childhood and into the teen years.
- It means that the old assumption that children will “grow into” their weight might be not quite right.
What should we do?
Well, we shouldn’t be complacent about children’s weight. But at the same time that we shouldn’t put children “on a diet.” Keep in mind that children do not shop for their own food or prepare their own meals. To change our children’s future, we must first change our own present behavior.
1. If you’re pregnant, watch your weight. Yes, it’s easy to gain weight when you’re eating for two, but women who gain more weight during pregnancy are more likely to have larger babies. As we’ve seen, large babies begin life with a weight problem already underway. So keep your pregnancy weight under control.
2. Feed your children well. Nutrition is a zero-sum game. There’s a limited amount of space in children’s tummies and if it’s filled up with junk food, there’s no room left for more nutritious fare. Start right now to eliminate sugary treats, packaged foods, frozen foods, and fast food. Never permit a child to drink soda, especially diet soda, and cut way, way back on juice.
3. Keep only nutritious food in the house. You cannot have a secret stash of Oreos if you expect your children to avoid eating them. Kids can’t eat what’s not available but if you’ve bought something to snack on when the children nap, you’ve let your enemy in through the front door. You know you don’t need that stuff either. Now is the time to give it up.
4. Keep your children active. Make being active what your family does, instead of letting what your family does be watching TV or playing video games. Reading is great, and playing with Legos is lovely but balance those with lots and lots of active play.
Head off overweight early. Don’t give it a place in your home. Start now to change basic habits in ways that will put your entire family on a healthier path.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.