Written by Caroline Meyer
Diet is important at every stage of life and especially so during the growth phases. The quantities and types of food that children eat can have a big impact on their health and well-being. Obesity or being overweight is based on the level of body fat that a person may have. When a child or adult is obese it can lead to serious health complications as well as issues of body image late in life. Obesity, when not as a result of an illness or disease is generally caused from eating the incorrect foods or eating too much food in relation to the amount of energy that is used during physical activity and normal body processes.
Risk factors for obesity include genetic history and medical factors, lack of physical activity, role models that are overweight, lack of sleep, unhealthy foods and drinks, overeating. Erratic eating habits, constant snacking, emotional eating and binge eating junk food can all lead to obesity. Coupled with normal or lower than normal physical activity means that these extra, empty calories are stored as fat and the child might have a much harder time losing this excess weight as they grow.
Besides eating unhealthy foods and drinking sugary drinks, toddlers are often given far larger portions than what they need to eat for healthy growth. This can often result in them eating a lot more than they need. A study has shown that offering children larger portions results in them eating 25% more than what they actually need to feel full. This can also result in unwanted weight gain.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Offer plenty whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, lean protein, nuts, seeds and low fat dairy products. Limit the intake of sugary drinks and fatty foods. Limit junk food to an occasional snack. Keep the portions to an appropriate amount based on the size and age of the toddler.
Start off with a healthy breakfast to prevent snacking or overeating at lunch. Offer healthy snacks if they do feel the need to refuel before the next main meal. Apple slices or carrot sticks can be a fun, crunchy and enjoyable snacks. Fresh fruit is a good option, but if not available, you can also offer dry fruit. Try and offer plant based foods as they are nutritious and contain fibre which fills them up with healthy produce full of vitamins and minerals. Offer high-fibre bread instead of processed bread and keep the proteins and dairy to the lean/low fat varieties. Toddlers that eat a lot of whole foods are 40% less likely to be overweight. Allow your toddler to eat until they are full and don’t force kids to eat everything on their plates. Offer a variety of foods so that they are still getting the nutrients they need without having to clean the plate. This will also help them know what being full feels like and curb overeating past the stage of satiety.
Eating together as a family is also a good way to ensure your toddler eats right. Toddlers learn from example and will enjoy eating the same foods as the rest of the family. Families that eat together have a reduced risk of eating disorders and obesity. Limit eating in front of the TV and cut down on the amount of junk food consumed by the family as a whole.
Encourage your child to be active. Take them to the park or let them play outdoors to encourage running around and burning off excess energy. Play games with them that need active participation. Have playdates with toddlers of a similar age to encourage play as well as socializing. Make sure they have a bed time routine and get to a good night’s rest. If you are active, you child is also more likely to be active. Try and exercise regularly and encourage your child by example or let your child exercise with you. Try swimming, yoga, dancing and other exercise that you can do together.
Due to genes and genetics, some children have a higher risk of becoming obese. You can reduce the risks by ensuring a healthy lifestyle and healthy choices for the whole family. Spend time outdoors, avoid using technology as a baby sitter and make sure you put aside enough time to play with your toddler. This will all help towards ensuring a better chance of keeping their weight in check and reduce the risks of developing obesity. Do not put your child on diet; instead change the lifestyle of your whole family, encouraging healthy eating, regular exercise and good sleep. If you have any concerns with regards to your toddler’s weight, check with your doctor.