The Y recommends reading the Surgeon Generals "Call to Action" with ideas and tips on how to prevent and overcome obesity. One of the main I things a parent can do is set a good example. A parent certainly wouldn't let their young child smoke cigarettes, but getting them set up at an early age for heart disease may be more harmful than that. Here are my favorite tips from the Call of Action:
1. Stock the refrigerator/cabinets with healthy foods. Of coarse a child will pick cookies over veggies if given the choice! If it's not in the house, they won't eat it and will be forced to choose something healthy if they are really hungry. (Whining may happen, but oh well. If they whined for cigarettes, it would be a hands down NO!)
2. Discourage eating in front of the TV. I know that when I'm distracted, I eat faster, and this goes for children too. By slowing down and listening to their bodies, they will know when they are full.
3. Don't use food as a reward or withhold it as a punishment. I'm guilty of this one: "Finish your dinner or you won't get dessert!" This trains kids that they should eat when they are not hungry to get dessert. If dessert is a reward, it's associated with feeling good, hence "Comfort Food."
4. Be active for at least 60 minutes a day. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's something that many kids aren't doing. Provide safe environments for kids to play (swimming, biking, etc.) and have certain hours of the day where no tv or video games are allowed. (If whining ensues, see #1.)
Even with extremely overweight children, weight loss should be gradual. You should never put a child on a strict diet (unless supervised by a physician) but you should teach them healthy eating habits right from the start. While my kids and I aren't overweight, we do eat quite a bit of fast food and it's something that I know I need to change. Now.
-Jeannine Borasch, MS in Exercise Science & Health Promotion