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Preventing Obesity

Dear Debi,
Last week I welcomed a new 2 and 1/2 year-old girl who is overweight, into my family child care. As a provider, what can I do to help her without making her feel singled out or restricted?
Karolina , North Hollywood, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Teach healthy eating habits early on
  • Teach kids to eat small portions throughout the day
  • Get children active every day
Expert Advice
Dr. Bob Sears
Dr. Bob Sears
Pediatrician and Author
Pediatricians have a guideline that they use to know whether a child is overweight, but generally, for a toddler, his height should be greater in number then his weight. A preschooler should be what I call a “square” which means that his height in inches should be close to their weight in pounds. But that information really can be easily accessed through the child’s pediatrician.

To avoid overeating, teach children to eat small portions. When you’re eating, your stomach won’t know it’s full until 10 minutes after it’s already full. Many people overeat because of this. If you have a child who overeats, make sure you give him a regular-sized portion for his age. Then, if he asks for seconds, make it routine to wait 10 minutes from when he finished his first portion before giving him seconds. You can spend that time talking to him or have him step away and do another activity before asking him if he still wants seconds. By that time, he will know that his stomach is full and he may be satisfied with only the first portion.

Parents, child care providers, grandparents – whoever takes part in caring for an overweight child – should partner together to help that child’s long-term health. You want him to stay clear of health consequences such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure when they become adults. You can do that by giving kids healthy habits in their childhood that last throughout their lives. Both parents and child care providers need to model good eating habits and an active lifestyle. Health care professionals should also be involved and consulted to make sure the child is getting proper nutrition.

Unless a child is grossly overweight, I don’t think that a child should be put on a diet to lose weight. Instead, I recommend that adults change the child’s eating habits and activity level so that it becomes a regular part of their lives. It should be a change in lifestyle and not a temporary diet. Changing how the child eats and getting the child to be more active is the best way to manage a weight issue. Children are still growing rapidly at this stage in life, so if you make sure they are getting healthy foods and moving around, that should be sufficient to get them back on track.

For infants and toddlers, exercise is automatic, because they are naturally crawling and walking and exploring. Preschoolers-should learn to be outside. Being sedentary is a cause of many kids being overweight these days. A good rule of thumb is for every hour a child is sedentary, the child should have the equivalent in outdoor or indoor activities. But, preschoolers should get at least an hour of running around time a day, every day.

I also recommend implementing a “No dessert after dinner rule.” This rule is just what it sounds like. Don’t give kids desserts after dinner because kids have no way to burn off sugar calories later in the day. When you do give a child a treat, give it to them in the early afternoon so that they have time to burn off the calories. Also, choose healthy desserts like fruit instead of cookies or ice cream. Remember to make sure that kids get enough water. Toddlers should get about four cups a day and preschoolers should get from four to six cups. Babies on breast milk don’t need any water. They get all they need from the mother’s breast milk.
Child Care provider Comments
Provider for 10 years
I think it’s important to communicate with parents about what may be causing the child to be overweight. Sometimes it may be genetics, but it also can be because diet or a medical reason. Talking with the parents is crucial to figuring out how to help the child. I would also recommend checking out the many resources that are available to make sure that kids are eating well. For instance, you can go online, check out books, or even talk to a pediatrician. Beyond that, I think the key is really working together with the parents and getting them on board about being consistent about proper nutrition and exercise.
Family child care provider for 5 years
Actually, I just worked with a family who was concerned about their 7-month-old infant being overweight. When the mom took him in for a check-up, all his measurements were off the charts because he was so big. She was concerned, especially since this was her first baby and she was extremely health-conscious. She asked me to put him on a “diet.” I had a gut feeling that putting a baby on a diet just wasn’t right.

After doing some research, I talked to the baby’s mother about not putting him on a diet, but instead reducing his portions and feeding him more often. We worked together on this plan and watched the baby grow. We noticed that the infant’s body caught up to his weight. He’s now 4 years old and he’s of normal weight.
Darlene Patterson
Darlene Patterson
Family child care provider for 22 years and mother of three
I am actually taking care of a six year old boy that I’ve been caring for since he was 3 months old. He has a weight problem and he’s becoming conscious of that fact. I try to help him by making sure what he eats during the day is nutritious and balanced. He constantly asks for seconds. But before giving it to him, I ask him to wait for his food to settle and his brain to register the fact that he may already be full.

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Preventing Obesity
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