If your child were overweight, would you know it?

Not according to recent research.  One study of preschoolers, in which nearly one in three was overweight or obese (matching the national statistics):

  • 83% of all the parents thought their children were about the right weight.
  • More than 50% of the parents of obese children also thought their child was the right weight.

I guess we parents are hiding our heads in the sand.

Parents aren’t the only ones reluctant to discuss toddler weight. Pediatricians are too.

Even though parents in the study overwhelmingly reported that they would value a pediatrician’s advice about a child’s weight problem, most pediatricians are reluctant to pull the trigger.  Unless parents bring it up, the topic of discussion of toddler weight goes unspoken.

This is bad news because even though plump babies may slim out, young children — even those as young as 2— with a body mass index indicative of obesity are at high risk of becoming obese adults.

Children learn their eating habits at a very early age and, more often than not, carry them through life.

Some people blame childhood obesity on the food industry, but that’s only part of the story.

It’s true that food manufacturers are serving our kids questionable food; it’s loaded with sugar, salt and fat. Read Singing the Sweet & Salty Baby Food Blues and The Truth about “Child-Friendly” Foods.

However, in the name of nutrition, parents often unintentionally teach kids to eat more than they need. We’re hiding our heads in the sand about that too.

10 ways parents teach kids to overuse food:

1) We make kids finish their meals before they can have dessert, instead of encouraging them to save room for sweets.

2) When kids stop eating, we typically ask them to eat a few more bites, even though we can’t possibly know how hungry they are.

3) We let kids snack until they are full – instead of until they’re no longer hungry — and then serve them a meal.

4) We dish up adult-size portions, hoping our kids will eat half (even though 1/2 is still too much).

5) We offer kids food before they get hungry, thereby disconnecting them from their internal hunger/satiety signals.

6) We use even the smallest celebration as an opportunity to party.

7) We don’t believe young kids when they say they’re not hungry.

8) We teach kids to use food to self-soothe by offering them lollypops to recover from falling down, a shot at the doctor’s office and even to cheer them up at the dentist.

9) We glorify dessert and “challenge” kids to conquer large portions: “I’d like to see you eat that!”

10) We reward everything from good behavior to good grades with treats.

Want to take your head out of the sand?  

1) Find out if your child is overweight or obese: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are considered overweight if they fall in the 85th to 94th percentiles of the BMI growth chart.  They’re considered obese if they are in the 95th percentile or higher.

To calculate your child’s BMI you need to know three things: age, height and weight.  Calculate your child’s BMI.

2) Remember, you don’t have to know your child’s BMI to prevent weight gain.  You simply need to keep an eye on her habits.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


Source: Hernandez, R. G., Cheng, T. L., and Serwint, J. R. 2010. “Parents’ Healthy Weight Perceptions and Preferences Regarding Obesity Counseling in Preschoolers: Pediatricians Matter.” Clinical Pediatrics published online June 3, 2010; Kalb, C. 2010.  Parents Oblivious to Overweight Kids. Newsweek July 1. accessed 7/5/10.