Answers to Common Childhood Obesity Questions

Premier Physician Network doctors answer frequently asked questions about childhood obesity.

What is proper nutrition for an infant? A toddler? A child? An adolescent?

As children grow and change, so do their nutrition needs. It is important for parents to keep changing nutritional guidelines in mind when choosing what to feed their growing children.

Proper nutrition for an infant includes:

  • Breast milk (preferred for at least the first year) or formula
  • A vitamin D supplement for breastfed babies. Vitamin D is important for proper organ function and brain development
  • Solids – including fortified cereals, fruits and vegetables – beginning about four to five months of age
  • Though breast milk and formula will supply babies all the fluids they need, water can be given to babies after the introduction of solid foods, and juice, if introduced, can be given after six months, according to the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP)

Proper nutrition for a toddler includes:

  • Whole milk, after the child turns one
  • No restrictions on calories or intentionally low-fat foods before age two. The fat in full-fat foods in essential for brain development at this early age
  • Introduce calorie dense and vitamin infused foods, such as peanut butter (assuming the child has no allergies)
  • From two years old and on, toddlers should eat three meals a day and one or two snacks, according to the AAP
  • Nutritional habits begin to be formed in toddlers, so introducing them to a variety of foods and a good balance of foods from all the food groups will help create good lifelong eating habits, according to the AAP
  • A toddler’s serving size should be about a quarter the size of an adult portion, with a serving of vegetable being one to two tablespoons and a serving of meat being about the size of a child’s palm, according to the AAP

Proper nutrition for a child includes:

  • Start feeding children like adults around first grade
  • Provide a balanced diet of foods from throughout the food pyramid. Remember that a colorful plate is a sign of good balance
  • Aim for a diet of reduced fat and cholesterol
  • Include small amounts of starchy foods, such as potatoes, pasta and rice, to help use fat and cholesterol in the body, according to the AAP
  • Serve lean meats
  • Avoid high-calorie dips and toppings, such as butter and sour cream
  • Make baked or broiled foods instead of fried foods

Proper nutrition for an adolescent includes:

  • Continue with many of the healthy eating habits built during childhood, according to the AAP
  • Aim for a diet of reduced fat and cholesterol
  • Include small amounts of starchy foods, such as potatoes, pasta and rice, to help use fat and cholesterol in the body
  • Serve lean meats
  • Avoid high-calorie dips and toppings, such as butter and sour cream
  • Make baked or broiled foods instead of fried foods
  • Eating disorders often develop during adolescence. Be aware of your child’s eating habits and make sure he or she has a good understanding for eating healthy goods to live a healthy, active lifestyle, according to the AAP

Talk with your child’s physician for more information about promoting healthy eating habits and good nutrition at all life stages.

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How is putting a child, who is still growing, on a plan to lose weight different than doing so for an adult?

Tiffany Karas discusses childhood obesity concerns. Press play below or read the transcript.

 

Developing a plan for children to lose weight is different than adults deciding to lose weight.

Children have growth and developmental needs for parents to consider when planning for weight loss, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

It is important for parents to pay attention to children’s intake of proteins and healthy fats.

Children’s bones, muscles and nervous systems are still developing and need nutritious food to stay on the right path, according to the AAP.

Physicians might recommend for children to reduce their calorie intake and increase their activity to promote weight loss.

Parents choosing for their children to eat healthy and exercise will inspire a lifelong focus on overall wellness.

Always discuss the best ways to help your child maintain a healthy weight with his or her physician.

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Do some children have a greater risk of becoming obese than others?

Studies have begun to show that genetic factors – which are involved in regulation of body weight – can have an effect on a child’s risk for becoming obese, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Though more research is being done on how much a role heredity plays in childhood obesity, a family’s lifestyle has a very heavy impact.

Children who are raised in homes with less focus on healthy eating and healthy activity are prone to have a greater risk for becoming obese.

Also, some medications can cause weight gain and increased appetite. And, children with health conditions that keep them from being active and burning calories can have obesity problems.

Talk with your child’s physician for more information about obesity risk factors affecting him or her.

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What might cause a child to refuse to eat or drink?

Tiffany Karas discusses childhood obesity concerns. Press play below or read the transcript.

 

Depending on the age of your child, he or she might refuse to eat or drink for a variety of reasons.

  • One year olds – From time to time, children at this age might reject everything on their plate. This is part of the process of learning to eat meals and healthy snacks at appropriate times. Save the plate and avoid letting children fill up on unhealthy foods before making a second attempt at offering the meal, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  • Preschoolers – Children this age can often be distracted or “too busy” to find time to eat and drink without structure or prompting. Keeping a regular eating and snacking schedule can help, according to the AAP. Children at this age also sometimes refuse to eat – even foods they loved a day before – as part of a normal change in eating patterns where children start eating less.
  • Early school-aged children – Children this age can become easily emotional and have unpredictable responses to food, including refusing to eat altogether, according to the AAP. Helping children at this age feel empowered to choose what they are eating by providing a few healthy choices can help overcome the struggles.
  • Teenagers – By the time children reach teenage years, they should understand the importance of eating and drinking as a source of nourishment and energy. If your teenager is refusing to eat or drink, talk with your child’s physician to get more information about eating disorders and specific concerning behaviors to watch for.

Regardless of age, children often refuse to eat if they’re feeling sick. So, if your child refuses to eat or drink and shows other signs of illness, contact your child’s physician.

For more information about what to do with a child who refuses to eat or drink, talk with your child’s physician.

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At what point might a physician become concerned with a child’s weight?

Physicians will track your child’s Body Mass Index (BMI) rating during office visits.

A BMI is calculated by a formula using weight and height, according to the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP).

A BMI rating of 25 to 29 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 or more is listed as obese.

A physician will start to become concerned about your child’s weight when their BMI rating begins to reach to overweight status.

Doctors also will show concern for the possibility of weight problems for your child if:

  • There is a family history of obesity
  • A family’s lifestyle does not include regular activity and a nutritious diet
  • A child has health or physical disabilities that put him or her at risk for becoming overweight
  • A child is taking medication that can cause weight gain or increased appetite

If you are concerned about your child’s weight, talk with his or her physician.

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What steps can a family take to begin following a more nutritious diet?

Good nutritional values are learned at home. Families can start implementing a few steps to make sure their home offers a nutritious diet.

Some steps include:

  • Structured meals – Eating together as a family, without TV (or other electronic distractions), at a similar time for every meal, every day can help with nutrition, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  • Portions – Serve healthy adult-sized and child-sized portions (which are generally about a quarter the size of an adult portion), according to the AAP.
  • Healthy plate – Serve a balance of foods from all the food groups. A plate should have a variety of colors included in the foods on it.
  • Fruits and Vegetables – Buy, serve and make available for snacks more fruits and vegetables. These can be fresh, frozen, canned or dried, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
  • Strive for none – When it comes to sugary, high-calorie drinks, eliminate or restrict them from your family’s diet, according to Public Health of Dayton and Montgomery County. Try to stick with water or low-fat milk more often.
  • Eat breakfast daily – Breakfast gives you energy for the day. Skipping breakfast can leave your family hungry, tired and seeking less-healthy snacks, according to the NIH.

For more ideas about how to start your family on the path to a healthy diet, talk with your physician.

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What are the best healthy snacks for children?

Dr. Ruff discusses childhood obesity concerns. Press play below or read the transcript.

 

Snacking between the three main meals of the day helps children meet their nutritional needs. Planning snacks, just like planning meals, helps ensure they are healthy for your child, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Examples of some of the best snacks for children include:

  • Fruits – apple slices, bananas, pineapple, kiwi, peaches, grapes, dried fruits, raisins, berries,
  • Vegetables – carrot sticks, celery sticks, zucchini sticks, bell pepper rings, cherry tomatoes, steamed broccoli, green beans, avocados, cucumber
  • Grains – whole wheat tortillas, high-fiber dry cereal whole grain crackers, rice cakes, graham crackers, low-fat popcorn, pretzels, granola bars
  • Dairy – low-fat cheese slices, string cheese, low-fat yogurt, low-fat milk, low-fat cottage cheese
  • Protein rich foods – boiled egg slices, peanut butter, bean dip, hummus dip, lean turkey or chicken slices, unsalted nuts (assuming the child has no allergies)

Being inventive – such as serving hummus as a dip for fresh vegetables or yogurt as a dip for fresh fruits – can make healthy snacks more exciting for children, according to the American Academy of Pediatricians.

As always with snacks for younger children, be sure the items and sizes are appropriate to avoid choking hazards for your child, according to the USDA.

Talk to your child’s physician for more information about the best healthy snacks for children.

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Thanks to Premier Physician Network doctors for answering these common questions about childhood obesity:

Additional Resources

This website provides general medical information that should be used for informative and educational purposes only. Information found here should not be used as a substitute for the personal, professional medical advice of your physician. Do not begin any course of treatment without consulting a physician.

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