We all know the staggering statistics: childhood obesity in the United States has more than doubled in the past 30 years and today, 30 percent of children are overweight or obese.
Perhaps even more alarming is that the epidemic is affecting kids at earlier ages than ever before. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 8.4 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds are obese.
Whether you’re pregnant, just had a baby or have a big kid, there are things you can do to prevent your kid from being overweight or obese, even if genetics aren’t on your side.
1. Pay attention to pregnancy weight gain
When I was pregnant with my first child, I gained too much weight because I didn’t pay attention to what I was eating and how much.
Not only can gaining too much weight during pregnancy increase your risk for things like high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, miscarriage, preterm birth, and birth defects, but studies show pregnancy weight gain is also linked to childhood obesity.
According to a recent study published in the journal Obesity, babies born to women who gained more than the recommended amount of weight before 24 weeks were 2.5 times more likely to be born large.
Of course, every pregnancy is different and sometimes you can’t control every last pound, but do your best to stay within the recommendations for pregnancy weight gain:
- 25 to 35 pounds if you have a normal weight.
- 15 to 25 pounds if you’re overweight.
- 11 to 20 pounds if you’re overweight.
Breastfeeding has so many benefits and studies suggest it can even prevent childhood obesity.
In fact, babies who are breastfed have a 22 percent lower risk of childhood obesity than those who were never breastfed, a 2014 meta-analysis published in BMC Public Health found.
3. Don’t add cereal to your baby’s bottle
If you’re formula feeding, you may have heard adding rice cereal to your baby’s bottle before he starts eating solids is a good idea if he’s overly hungry or to help him sleep through the night.
Yet the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says this isn’t a good idea. Not only are babies not ready, but it may increase their risk for food allergies and cause them to take in too many calories.
Pediatricians however, may recommend the practice for babies with GERD, so you should always speak to your child’s doctor first.
4. Start with healthy solids
The best way to ensure your child will eat healthy, whole foods as he gets older and reduce his risk for childhood obesity, is to offer a variety of whole fruits and vegetables when he starts solids.
Consistency is key so if your baby shuns broccoli the first few times, stick with it. Chances are he’ll eventually learn to love it.
5. Eat whole-foods
It’s no surprise that fast food and processed, packaged foods are high in calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar which are all linked to childhood obesity.
Even if your kid is stick thin now, eating this way conditions his taste buds for this type of food and creates unhealthy habits that could continue throughout his lifetime.
Instead, do your best to have a diet made up mostly of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats which will give your kids the vitamins and nutrients they need to grow and fiber to keep them satiated and keep weight gain at a healthy pace.
6. Don’t bring junk food in the house
So many families I know buy crackers, chips and granola bars for their kids. It seems that we have a belief in the U.S. that kids should eat this way and there’s really nothing wrong with it.
But make no mistake: feed your kids this way now will increase their risk for weight gain. They’re also more likely to always eat this way throughout their lives.
Once you decide as a family that you’ll eat healthy and make changes, start today. This could be a huge shock to kids who have been eating this way for years so start small: nix one bag or box a week until you’ve entirely purged your pantry of junk.
7. Cut down on screen time
I’ll admit it: keeping my kids off the iPad is tough.
When I have to clean the house or make a phone call, it’s really easy to put them in front of the screen. Yet the more time kids spend on devices, the less time they’re spending moving.
To cut down on screen time, set a timer, restrict the devices to weekends-only or set limits on when and for how long they’re allowed to use them.
8. Get moving together
Kids should get 60 minutes of exercise everyday but many families find this hard to do especially if both parents work or if kids are in after-school activities that aren’t sports.
Although it can be challenging to find the time, your kids won’t be motivated to be active if you’re not.
My kids know that my husband and I both work out at the gym several times a week and as a family we do our best to take walks after dinner, have an indoor “dance party” on rainy or snow days or play Twister.
9. Cut sugar
Kids love their treats but over-indulging in sugar in everything from candy, soda and juice, to yogurt and energy bars has been shown to increase the risk for childhood obesity.
Kids should eat less than 25 grams of added sugar a day so start reading labels and be choosy about what you’re buying. The most common types of foods that contain added sugars are soda, sports and energy drinks and sweetened teas.
10. Make it a family affair
You can spend all your time and energy cooking healthy meals and running your kids around to after-school sports, but if you’re not living a healthy lifestyle, your kids may feel less motivated to do so.
If you want to prevent your kids from being overweight, healthy has to be a family affair.
Instead of making drastic changes overnight however, make one small change each week.
Maybe that means serving vegetables instead of chips for after-school snacks, cooking a healthy meal together or going for a family bike ride.
The key is that the changes are realistic, manageable and consistent.