Are Parents of Overweight Toddlers in Denial?

Are your tot’s fleshy folds merely the sweet remains of baby pudge -- or an indication of a weight problem? In a new study, most parents of overweight preschoolers picked the former. Published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, the study found that 71 percent of parents of overweight or obese kids (age two to five) felt their little ones (or not-so-little, perhaps) were a healthy weight or even underweight.

No one wants to make a 4-year-old feel fat, but weight is an important topic for parents and pediatricians to discuss. After all, being overweight as a toddler can increase the chances that a child will continue to have a weight problem -- and the associated risks, such as Type II diabetes -- down the road, says Mitzi Dulan, R.D., a mom of two and the co-author of The All-Pro Diet. The study also found that parents whose pediatrician didn't discuss their child’s weight were more likely to think their child’s weight was healthy. Pediatricians, the study’s authors concluded, are “highly valued weight advisors,” and “Weight-focused advice from pediatricians matters to parents and may promote parental identification of early childhood weight risks.”

Our pediatrician brought up weight when my 3-year-old son jumped from the 50th percentile to the 75th percentile—not because she thought he was at risk for a weight problem, but because she thought he might be drinking too much milk. I confess to being a bit miffed, because to my eye my little guy is as lean and muscular as they come. But at least she didn’t consider the topic taboo.

So don't be afraid to bring up your child's weight at the next well visit just to be thorough. And keep in mind that both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend using Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements to screen for possible weight problems starting at the tender age of two.

Also, reduce your child's risk of weight issues by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Dulan has these tips:

  • Expose kids to a variety of foods and flavors. Don’t put your preconceived notions about what your kid will like onto him. (He may love broccoli without the cheese sauce!)
  • Involve your kids in food shopping and preparation. Take them to the grocery store with you, let them pick out healthy food, and get them in the kitchen with you to prepare it. It's both educational and inspiring.
  • Serve your kids real foods. Think easy to pronounce and close to nature. To name a few: fresh fruits and vegetables; lean, unprocessed meats and nuts and legumes. Check out our tips on getting kids to eat more veggies.
  • Get your kids outside to play. The more active they are, the better!

Parents just assume that their kid is going to grow out of [a weight problem],” Dulan says. “But there are ways to start healthier eating habits at an early age. When parents start getting worried about their kids’ unhealthy eating habits at age 9 or 10, those eating habits are harder to change.”

Do you talk about your child's weight with the pediatrician? Chime in below!

Like This? Read These:
- 6 Clever Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat More Veggies
- Great Eats for Good Health
- Bedtime Snacks for Toddlers

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