It should not be a "tricky dilemma" but it is. Nobody wants to tell a parent that their kid is fat. We don't want the child to develop even worse eating habits or an eating disorder or low self-esteem but we don't want a parent to labor under the delusion that their 4 year old still has "puppy fat". Most over-weight 4 year olds don't have puppy fat - they just have...fat. And it's not an easy subject to talk about.
So instead of talking about the realities of life - that 20% of preschoolers are actually obese - we talk about baby fat, puppy fat, or that they'll grow out of it or that once they hit a growth spurt, it'll all even out. Or maybe it's only that Junior is "big-boned" or just built to be the star linebacker of the high school football team.
No-one wants to say that the child is simply fat. The other "f" word.
Researchers from Ohio State University monitored the weight and height ratios (BMI - Body Mass Index) of more than 8,500 children of white, black, Hispanic and Asian and Native children and found that a staggering 18.4% of them were classed as obese.
The BMI is considered by most experts to be the best way to gauge the appropriate weight of a person. There are certainly exceptions to this - many athletes have a high BMI due to their muscle mass. Since muscle weighs more than fat, it makes sense that they may be classed as over-weight, when in fact they are in excellent health and shape.
Preschoolers, however, are not yet athletes and don't have this level of muscle mass.
The percentage were also very defined among race: 31% of Native children were obese. The numbers for Hispanic were 22%, for blacks 21%, for whites 16% and Asian children came in at 13% being obese.
Researchers say there are many reasons for so many children being so over-weight. They believe that cultural expectations (where it's not considered unusual or unhealthy to be fat), poor access to outdoor activities, poor access to healthy school lunches and kids living in urban neighborhoods deemed unsafe to be outdoors contribute to over-weight children. Overweight kids are also more likely to have overweight parents and simply eat what they see their parents eat. Parents and other families members are often guilty of over-feeding to show love; a dangerous habit that leads to a lifetime of weight battles.
To combat this epidemic of overweight kids, the buck really begins and ends at home. Doctors believe that parents need to admit that their kids are fat and stop using excuses like "puppy fat" or comparing their overweight child to an even more overweight child and saying that their kid isn't so bad in comparison.
Pediatricians also need to talk to the parents about it and give advice or referrals to a nutritionist who can educate the entire family on healthy eating habits and regular exercise. It's a sensitive area, particularly when the parents themselves are heavy, but it's as important as any other health issue that a doctor needs to discuss with a patient.
Parents also need to disallow incessant use of video games and TV and take their kids outside, to parks or just a walk, where kids can get some exercise.
Parents also need to adopt their own healthy eating habits and exercise regimes so that they lead by example. Why should a kid eat veggies for dinner when Dad is eating pizza?
Make exercise fun and something that is looked forward to - not dreaded. Parents (in this instance, it's ok to lie!) need to talk about how much they like to exercise and how great they feel after (no lie needed there) in order for the kids to adopt the same mentality.
We eat healthily and exercise because we love and respect our bodies. Never exercising and eating junk daily is not showing our bodies respect.
And there is no need to insist a child is on a "diet" in order to lose weight. Parents don't have to make a production of it. They can gradually, over a few weeks, introduce newer, fresh foods with an emphasis on lean proteins, fruits, veggies and other healthy options. Good and healthy foods can be delicious - just a little creativity can have children munching on the good stuff. And when parents are happily munching along with them, their chances of losing the fat and maintaining a healthier weight increases dramatically.
How do you feel about nearly one in five preschoolers being obese? Do you have experience in this area?
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