The following information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
Many Circle of Moms members are worried that weight issues that emerge when their kids are very young will plague them for the rest of their lives. But should you be concerned? And if so, what should you do?
There's good reason to pay attention to these questions: Childhood obesity has tripled over the past three decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And, as a Circle of Moms member named Meghan shares, a study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion indicates that kids as young as nine months old who are on the heavier side are more likely to stay on the pathway towards obesity than their counterparts of normal weight.*
Conversely, Circle of Moms members like Palma R. worry when their children seem underweight and may not be getting the proper nutrition. “My two-year-old son is generally a poor eater. As an infant he was in the 95th percentile for weight, but after a long bout of the flu, a cold and a double ear infection in which he didn't eat for over a month, he's dropped down to the 10th percentile for weight. Any advice how to fatten up a little one who is a very picky eater?” she asks.
Whether you’re dealing with a child who seems overweight or a picky eater, Circle of Moms members share the following four do's and don'ts.
Don’t Sweat the Numbers
Many Circle of Moms members feel parents should not worry too much about a young child's weight or their percentile on growth charts. Kim L. says her daughter hasn't put on any weight in the past six months, but her daughter is happy and healthy. As long as toddlers “always have sufficient food available to them they will eat what their bodies require,” she says.
Liz S. agrees that parents shouldn’t put too much stock in growth percentiles. Her three-year-old daughter is in the tenth percentile and is a picky eater. Some days she will eat a lot, other days not so much. “I am [of] the thinking that if they are hungry they will eat,” she says. “Just make sure [your child] is being offered food that you know he likes.”
Don't Force Your Child to Diet
Moms also tend to agree that diets can be detrimental to young children. Commenting on a recent Vogue article in which the author, Dara-Lynn Weiss, discusses a weight loss plan for her daughter that involved retraining her eating patterns, Circle of Moms member Pamela L. expresses the concern that the plan's “net effect" will be "shaming a 7-year-old child about her body.”
“There are ways to approach the issue — like take up bike riding with the girl or do an aerobics class with her, take her swimming, change the whole family's eating habits” that are positive and that won't create a negative body image, Pamela explains.
Meredith S. concurs. “You should never punish or reward children with food,” or project your own body issues onto your children. Food is essential to fuel our bodies, and to treat it as a reward or punishment is incredibly dangerous and will set them up for food and body issues later on in life.”
Karen O. adds that kids are growing rapidly during the preschool years, and that as a result, losing weight is often an unrealistic goal.
Do Emphasize Healthy Eating
Instead, Meredith S. recommends teaching children at a young age about healthy eating habits and making eating healthy a part of their daily life. “I have discussions with my daughters on a regular basis about food and what different types of food do to our bodies,” she says. “They eat fresh fruit and veggies, and have a well-rounded diet, but I don't keep them from having an occasional sweet treat or chips.”
Tina P. also offers positive reinforcement for healthy eating. She uses a star chart in which every time her child “makes a healthy [food] choice she gets a star, and once she accumulates so many stars she gets a reward.” Parents can reinforce the message in other ways as well, including offering their preschoolers praise for healthy choices, packing their lunches with healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables, and leading by example by eating right and exercising.
Do Talk to Your Pediatrician
If you are still concerned about your child’s weight, many moms recommend speaking with your child's pediatrician, who will have a broader perspective on the issue. As Karen O. and Dana H. share, your doctor will compare your child's height and weight, give you his BMI (body mass index), and make recommendations. She can also do a full medical exam to determine if your preschooler actually has a diet-related health problem.
A pediatrician's recommendations typically include more activity or a referral to a nutritionist to evaluate your child’s eating habits and to get him on the right path to healthier eating.
“Please speak with your child's pediatrician regarding your concerns,” Hannah D. reiterates. “If there is a problem, they can help you diagnose it. If there is no problem, they can give you the medical reassurance you need.” She also suggests keeping a food diary of what your child eats prior to discussing his weight with the doctor. “That way you can give the doctor the most information possible."
Several moms also suggest using your community center as a resource, as they often have nutritionists on staff. These pros can look at your child’s diet and provide tips on creating a healthier lifestyle.
The preceding information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
*75 percent of kids who were of a normal weight at nine months old were still at a normal weight at two years. But kids who were at-risk at nine months had only a 50 percent chance of being normal weight at age two. More than 28 percent of at-risk kids ended up obese by their second birthday.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.