The AAP’s Committee on Nutrition released guidelines this month advising ways in which parents and pediatricians can prevent obesity — a condition affecting 17% of American children aged 2-19 years. A similar percentage of children are overweight; 60% of American adults are either overweight or obese. The consequences of obesity include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, orthopedic and reproductive problems, and more, and are devastating to individuals, families, and society. The guidelines stress one thing above all else: prevention. As we discussed yesterday, once established, obesity is very difficult to treat. Preventing it from happening in the first place is the goal. And prevention should begin early and continue often throughout life:
There are 2 main reasons to address obesity prevention before 2 years of age, although only limited information on intervention models exists in this age group. Observational studies suggest that fetal life and the first 2 years of life may be critical periods for the programming of obesity and related behaviors. Furthermore, experimental studies suggest that tastes experienced by infants through maternal food choices during pregnancy and breastfeeding or through infant formula can affect long-term taste preferences.
Cari Nierenberg spoke with the chairman of the Committee on Nutrition and lead author of the AAP’s clinical report, Dr. Stephen Daniels, and highlights some of the obesity prevention guidelines for us:
- Control the foods that are brought into the home, and be aware of age-appropriate portion sizes for children. If healthful foods are stocked at home, then kids can make good choices within a prescribed zone, Daniels said.
- Buy fewer sweetened beverages (including sodas, iced teas, juice drinks and sports drinks) and instead encourage children to drink water, milk and limited amounts of 100 percent fruit juice.
- Make healthier foods visible and easily available, and wrap higher-calorie foods in foil and put them in the back of the refrigerator or pantry.
- Serve as important role models for kids by setting a good example with their own eating and exercising habits, even parents who are struggling with weight issues themselves, Daniels said.
- Reduce opportunities for sedentary entertainment. Parents should keep TVs, computers, video games and electronic devices, out of children’s bedrooms and ban these devices in areas where family meals are consumed to prevent distracted eating.
- Limit screen time to no more than two hours a day at most for children ages 2 and older. “Often, screen time is accompanied by eating, so a child is getting a double whammy of extra calories and inactivity,” Daniels said. Kids should replace screen time with activity time, he advised.
- Encourage overweight children to keep track of their eating and activity levels (physical and sedentary) in a diary, log or other form of daily self-monitoring. Children and parents can work together to set goals and review their results, and set nonfood rewards for when small goals are achieved. Often the reward that most children are looking for is to spend more time with a parent involved in an activity, which can be a win-win if this is a physical activity, Daniels suggested.
- Make sure that children get enough sleep. Recent research has suggested a link between obesity in children and insufficient sleep. Studies have shown that when sleep is increased to age-appropriate levels, children are less likely to become overweight or obese.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at some ways parents can promote healthy eating habits in their children.