Weight Watching for Kids
We are a state full of chubby youngsters, but that doesn’t have to be. A new program by Nemours aims to help. Prepare for life without apple juice.
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Weight problems in kids do not appear overnight. Subtle and inadvertent behaviors, repeated over time, lead to bad habits that are tough to break.
“The French fry is the most common first vegetable for kids,” say Mary Trotter, a Nemours nutritionist. “It’s easy to understand how that happens. The child is sitting on the parent’s lap or at the table and mom or dad lets them try one.”
Taste preferences for both good and bad foods are established early, and they carry into adulthood, says Doug Tynan, a psychologist at Nemours.
Among recent changes in dietary recommendations for youngsters, children should not be given juice during their first year. And when they start on juices, they should drink no more than one serving per day. Whole fruits should be given instead of juices, in part, Trotter, says, because they contain fiber, which is important in everyone’s diet.
Tynan has several suggestions for good dietary habits. Among preschool and school-age children, it is important to establish an eating schedule and to learn when to stop and to know what it feels like to be full. It is also important for kids to know what it feels like to be hungry and to be able to tolerate some hunger.
For all ages, Tynan says, parents need to model good behavior. Parenting style also plays a role.
“Parents need to set limits for young children and create expectations for their older kids,” Tynan says. “Parents shouldn’t be authoritarian with older kids, such as cutting out bad foods altogether. Rather, they should be authoritative and include compelling explanations so their children can understand the reason for the limits.”
Tynan says it’s important to engage kids in the process of changing behavior through motivational counseling. Motivational counseling means trying to get a child to express a concern about being overweight, then getting him to commit to doing something about it.
For some kids, losing weight or becoming more active is easier in a social environment, where several people share the same goal. That’s where programs and places like the Y can be helpful.
It’s difficult to follow a recommended diet, Trotter says, so parents should follow a reality-based approach. For example, snacks play a role in a good diet by providing energy between meals, she says, so decisions like cutting them out may be unnecessary. “The key is that snacks should be nutritious,” she says. “They should not be treats.”
Www.mypyramid.gov has tools to help plan meals, evaluate diets, and estimate dietary needs for kids and adults. The tool for diet planning, age and sex specific for children, shows the amount that a child should consume in each food group.
But national data shows that only about 20 percent of the population eats the recommended number of fruits and vegetables. Trotter says people should start with simple goals. Her No. 1 recommendation is to reduce sugary drinks, including soda, fruit drinks—even juices—to almost none.
“In one of our demonstrations, we ask people to guess how many teaspoons of sugar are in a 12-ounce soda. Most people’s guess is far too low.” The answer is 10 teaspoons of sugar. Twenty-ounce sodas, the common size in most convenience stores, have 15 teaspoons. Most 12-ounce sodas have about 120 calories.
Rattay says the overweight problem in children is not a matter of flagrant overeating. It’s a matter of 100 to 150 calories a day or, in other terms, a can of soda.
Small changes can lead to big changes, which is what happened with Dylan Jones. His short personal training class led to a commitment to fitness—and more.
“He’s now more careful about the foods he chooses,” says his mom. “And he makes me want to work out. The elliptical machine is tough, and he makes me want to beat that thing.”