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How to Help Overweight Preschoolers

by Margot F. | August 5th, 2014 | Preschool, Social

file0001686075678What a big boy! Don’t worry, it’s just baby fat, he’ll slim down when he gets moving. But what if your preschooler is still heavy at age four? How can you tell if your preschooler is overweight and needs to slim down?

To accurately assess whether a young child is overweight, it is best to consult with the doctor. It is now reported that one in five children (ages two to five) is overweight, but sometimes the parent is unaware of the seriousness of the problem. Fortunately, if a preschooler is overweight, now is the best time to rectify the problem. A parent is in control and can monitor food consumption and encourage exercise. What issues contribute to obesity in preschoolers?

According to Dr. Sandeep Gupta, director of Pediatric Overweight Education and Research Program at Indiana University Health, one problem is that young children are constantly drinking empty calories in the form of fruit punch and sugary juices. The parents have been told that fruit juices are healthy instead of pointing out the high sugar content and lack of fiber. Real fruits are good because of the vitamins and fiber. Children should sip on plain water, not on juice or flavored mineralized water which is also high in sugar.

Another area where parents and caregivers have significant control is portion size. A young child should be served significantly smaller portions than a school age child, especially when it comes to dessert.

In the age of “convenience”, children tend to be driven everywhere, so have less opportunity to walk and/ or run down the street. When you are going shopping, try driving part way and walking a bit to the store or park.

Another important issue is screen time. How much time should a preschooler spend watching a screen? In an ideal world, a young child would have very little screen time; however, in the real world, screens are used to entertain a child while the parent is making dinner or attending to another child. Try to limit screen time to two hours per day and encourage less structured play in a room nearby, or outdoor activities in an enclosed area.

Parents of young children are often working full-time. Rushed, it is much easier to grab convenience foods or get a take-out meal than to cook healthy food. I completely understand. One solution is to buy prepared fruit and/or veggie plates at the grocery store or Costco. Then set aside portions for lunches and dinners throughout the week. Sandwiches can be made on weekends and frozen. Also, make a large batch of your child’s favorite meal and set aside portions for later in the week. Children age three to five can have input on meal planning and help organize their lunches. Drinks can be plain water with a dash of fruit juice or milk if there is adequate refrigeration.

Lastly, try not to use food as a reward or a bribe. Admittedly this is a challenge but hugs and high fives are better for everyone.

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