The tubby toddler
Chubbiness is often in the eyes of the beholders. And when the beholders are parents terrified of turning out a fat child, as many of us are today, evidence of the perceived overweight doesn’t always show up on a toddler’s growth chart. Many parents tend to confuse normal baby fat and toddler body build with creeping obesity. Chubby cheeks, a round belly, and dimpled elbows and knees are typical toddler trademarks and not necessarily signs of overweight.
So if you suspect you’ve got a tubby toddler, plan a trip not to the diet foods section of the supermarket but to the doctor’s office. There, the possibility that your toddler is truly overweight can be explored and, if necessary, a plan of action mapped out. The doctor will probably consider two questions: One, in his or her medical opinion, does your toddler look overweight? And two, is your child’s weight 20% or more above the average foe age, sex and height? If the answer to both these questions is no, you can put aside your weighty worries for now; your toddler’s rotund physique is likely to eventually slim down to more comfortable portions. If you’d like to help make a slimmer future more certain, or if you and your spouse has been fighting a weight problem all your life and you’d like your toddler to avoid that fate, you can follow the tips on the facing page, designed for the overweight toddler, but also useful to keep a toddler-on-the-brink from slipping into that category.
If your toddler is truly overweight, getting a hold on eating habits now will be even more important. Though being overweight in the toddler years doesn’t seem to increase a child’s risk for adult obesity, overweight by age four does. (It’s believed that of the estimated 10% to 40% of children who are overweight, 50% to 85% will be overweight as adults.) So now is the time to begin to weight the scales in your toddler’s favour. Consider:
- What does your toddler eat? Right now, it’s more important to concern yourself with the eating habits your child is developing than to worry excessively about the fat cells that may be proliferating. Letting your toddler get into the junk food habit now can easily condemn him or her to a never-ending battle with overweight. On the other hand, helping child acquire a taste for whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy products, and fruit-sweetened treats will go far in preventing future weight problems (and health problems as well).
- How much does your toddler drink? Many toddler, especially those who still get most of their fluids from a bottle, guzzle a lot of unneeded calories. Most often the fluid at fault is apple juice (which, incidentally, provides little nutrition of the calories). Weaning to a cup, if you haven’t already, and diluting juices, particularly apple and apple-based juices, with water will help to cut calories safely.
- When does your toddler eat? Snacks have a legitimate place in the diets of active young children, most of whom can’t go the four or five hours between meals without refueling. But too many such pit stops can be a pit fall when trying to control weight. Provide your toddler with a nutritious, moderate calorie snack between lunch and dinner, and one more before bedtime. But that should be it.
- How does your toddler eat? Toddlers who are still being spoon-fed often consume more than they want or need. So give your toddler plenty of opportunity to self-feed and when he or she loses interest in the meal, end it. And forget trying to enlist your child in the ‘clean plate club’ – studies show that adult members of that society usually weight more than nonmembers. Fast eaters are often fast gainers. If your toddler shovels food in nonstop, try to slow down the pace at mealtime with conversation or other distractions.
- Why does your toddler eat? There’s only one good reason for eating: hunger. Children who learn this vital lesson at an early age rarely have eating or weight problems of any kind later in life. It’s when eating becomes a source of comfort, a release from tension, an escape from boredom, or a substitute for attention that the trouble begins. Avoid the biscuit to make the boo-boo better, the sweets to by quiet in the supermarket aisles, and the crisp to fill time while you balance your cheque book. If you don’t give food for the wrong reasons, your child won’t eat for wrong reasons.
- How much exercise does your toddler get? For toddler who exercise little but their appetite, weight is sure to become a problem, even if it isn’t one now. Structured classes aren’t necessary, but plenty of opportunities to run climb, jump and walk are. And don’t forget to practice what you preach. A family that exercises together stays slim for a lifetime, together.
- How much TV does your toddler watch? While exercise is a proven way to avoid obesity, television viewing has been proven to encourage it. The TV viewing habits your child develops in the toddler years are likely to stick for the rest of his or her life. So limit TV viewing now.
Remember, no matter how much you may worry about overweight, you should not put your toddler on a diet. Young children need calories to grow and thrive. The goal is not to get the overweight toddler to lose weight, just slow down the rate of gain while maintaining healthy growth.