Managing Your Toddler’s Weight

Your friends tell you not to worry about your toddler’s chubby cheeks and pudgy arms. “It’s just baby fat,” they say. “He’ll outgrow it.” But will he?

Studies show that chubby toddlers and preschoolers are more likely than other kids to become overweight ‘tweens. Just getting older doesn’t make that “baby fat” disappear. But proper nutrition and exercise can help control weight and lay the foundation for a healthier future.

Your child’s BMI
At least once a year, your child’s doctor should calculate your child’s BMI based on your child’s height and weight. The doctor will then find your child’s BMI percentile on a growth chart.

This number compares your child’s BMI to that of other children in the same age and gender group. If, for instance, your daughter is in the 75th percentile, that means her BMI is higher than 75 percent of the girls in that age group and lower than 25 percent of them.

The BMI percentile is used to see whether your child is possibly at a healthy weight, underweight, overweight, or obese. The chart below shows which percentiles indicate which weight class.

Less than 5th percentile

5th to 84th percentile
Healthy weight

85th to 94th percentile

95th percentile or higher

The BMI percentile and growth chart are used as screening tools. Because of how children grow, the doctor may need to do other tests to confirm whether or not your child is overweight or obese. If you think your toddler or preschooler may be overweight, talk to the doctor. Together you can review the growth charts and talk about proper nutrition and exercise to get your child’s weight on track.

Future health risks of overweight and obesity
Being overweight between the ages of 2 and 5 creates future health risks. Studies show that toddlers and preschoolers who are overweight are five times more likely than other children to be overweight at the age of 12.

Overweight adolescents, in turn, are at increased risk for obesity in adulthood. This raises their risk, even at an early age, for such conditions as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The keys to cutting these risks are helping your child develop healthy eating habits and encouraging lots of physical activity.

Healthy eating for tots
Here’s how to help your toddler or preschooler develop healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime:

•Offer healthy snacks. Instead of cookies or ice cream, give your child a banana, yogurt or some whole-grain crackers. You don’t have to ban sweets from your home entirely, but make sweet snacks the exception rather than the rule.
•Pay attention to portions. A serving size should be no larger than the size of your child’s fist.
•Don’t force your child to eat. Your child’s stomach may not be on the same schedule as yours, so don’t insist that he clean his plate. Trust that he’ll let you know when he’s hungry.
•Take the plate away when your child is full. Children are good at knowing when they are full. So help your child learn to trust her stomach, and don’t let her keep eating just because there’s food in front of her.
•Don’t give up. If your child gives his string beans to the dog, don’t make a big deal out of it. Continue to offer them. In time, he’s likely to swallow them instead of spitting them out. Getting a child to eat new food can take 10 or more tries.
•Don’t offer food as a reward. Instead of promising a piece of candy for your child picking up her toys, offer to take her to the playground. Making sweets a reward will give her the idea that they are more desirable than other foods.
•Avoid fast foods, but if there’s no time to cook and you have to hit the local drive-through, substitute some chocolate milk for the soda or a fruit cup for the fries.
•Avoid sugary drinks and limit juice to 6 ounces a day. If your child wants juice often, try mixing it with water to stretch it into more servings. Also make sure it’s 100-percent fruit juice with no sugar added. Offer water frequently throughout the day.
Staying active
Children need to be physically active for at least 60 minutes each day to maintain a healthy weight. Help your child equate exercise with fun. Show your child that jumping rope, playing a game of tag, or running through the sprinkler on a warm day are all fun ways to stay active.

Also, set a good example by being active yourself. Showing your children that you enjoy being physically active is a good way to help them develop their own active lifestyles. It’s also a good idea to do things together as a family. Go on outings, like a trip to the zoo. And do active chores, such as making the beds together.

Also limit your child’s media time to no more than 2 hours a day. Studies show that too much time spent watching TV or playing computer games can lead to childhood obesity. To get your kids moving when they watch TV, choose programs that involve lots of singing and dancing. Plus, encourage your kids to get up and move around during commercial breaks.

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