Obesity on the Decline in Young Kids

By Katie Parsons

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Pre-K kids are getting in shape, according to the latest research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

From 2003 – 2004 to 2011-2012, obesity in 2 to 5 year old children dropped from nearly 14 percent to 8.4 percent. Research has found that a child’s risk factors for becoming and staying obese are usually developed in the first five years of life, making these findings especially impactful.

The good news was announced on the fourth anniversary of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to fight childhood obesity, and on the same day she proposed stricter limits on food and drink advertisements in schools.

New York Pediatrician Dyan Hes is on the American Board of Obesity Medicine, an organization that formed three years ago and has awarded 615 board certifications in obesity medicine.

“In my medical training, I never really learned how to help kids with obesity. Pediatricians learn how to treat starving kids, not the other way around,” said Dr. Hes.

That is starting to change, though, due to efforts like Let’s Move! and improved public awareness.

“People are actually discussing obesity now, from public health campaigns to preschool teachers teaching their students to ‘eat their colors.’ The conversation is changing for the better on many levels,” said Dr. Hes.

For parents with children in the foundational 2 to 5 age group, Dr. Hes recommends the following to encourage a healthy weight:

No juice

In 2009, the federal relief organization Women Infants and Children (WIC), clamped down on its requirements for providing vouchers for juice following urging from physicians like Dr. Hes. Currently, all juice purchases with WIC must be 100 percent fruit juice. All parents should follow suit. “Juice is just extra sugar and calories. Parents should teach their kids to enjoy water and, of course, avoid sodas.”

Low-fat milk

Following the first two years of life, children should not drink whole milk. Dr. Hes suggests switching to one-percent or two-percent milk instead.

Smaller plates

In general, Dr. Hes says that people of all ages respond better to portion control when a small plate is full, as opposed to a large plate that is sparely filled. “Give kids a salad plate with their dinner on it,” she said.

Homemade snacks

When you will be away from home, bring along some healthy snacks instead of relying on what may be for purchase at your destination. Dr. Hes and her children chop up and portion vegetables every Sunday to grab as quick snacks on-the-go throughout the week.

Whole grains

Swap out groceries like bread and bagels for multi-grain or whole grain versions. Enough demand has meant plenty of convenient options in this regard.

The rules of feeding young children will vary from family to family, too.

“Work with the limitations of your family and what your kids like or don’t like,” said Dr. Hes. “Do what your family likes best in the healthiest way you can.”

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