Baby Fat: How to Avoid Childhood Obesity

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Baby Fat: How to Avoid Childhood Obesity

I noticed that my adorable ten-year-old son was wearing a T-shirt with his bathing suit to cover up his no longer little and now-somewhat-flabby tummy. The little tummy that I loved to tickle and kiss was a little bigger, and gee, now that you mention it, his face does seem a little fuller in photographs.

This is an active kid who bikes to school, plays soccer and likes to skateboard and spends only minimal time in front of a computer or TV. But I had noticed that the full can of Pringles sour cream and onion potato chips was disappearing and the cut-up apples and baby carrots were getting left on the plate.

“Is this just the normal chubbiness that precedes puberty?” I wondered, “Or is it a sign of a growing weight problem?” Treading carefully, to avoid negative comments or judgments about his body image, I asked him what was going on with the T-shirts in the pool.

“Are you worried about sunburn, honey?” I asked hopefully.

With gentle prodding, he allowed that he was a little embarrassed by his tummy and he was also worried about being able to run the mile in PE in less than twelve minutes. Since he was aware of his weight enough to be bothered, I thought we’d have a better chance of making some changes to help him be healthier and feel better about swimming T-shirtless.

A Supersized Nation
U.S. government statistics state that in the 1970s, only about 4 percent of children ages six to eleven were overweight, compared with more than 17 percent of children now. And it doesn’t take a statistician to see the evidence everywhere. Before I got serious about working on this issue with my own family, I began noticing some disturbing trends.

It was a brisk Saturday morning at the local soccer field. The team was warming up with exercises and laps. But the most important question wasn’t “Who’s playing goalie?” It was “Who’s Snack Mom this week?” Is it my imagination or are children becoming conditioned to expect a snack every one to two hours, rain or shine, whether they’re running around, waiting in line for a movie, or playing video games? No matter what they’re doing, they eat before the game, during breaks, and finish up with a high five, a few words of encouragement from the coach, and a bag of chips, a few cookies, and a juice box. Are our children ever feeling hunger?

Taking a Bite out of Obesity
So I started to make some changes. The first thing was so simple it was scary. My friend Beth let me in on a little secret about milk. I felt so healthy and superior reaching for the gallon of organic 2 percent milk, thinking that I was getting over 90 percent less fat than if I had chosen whole milk. Right? Wrong. Whole milk is 97 percent fat free. It has a whopping 3 percent fat, which is only 1 percent to 2 percent more than low-fat choices. Each 1 percent of fat on the label translates into 5 grams of fat. Who knew? So a glass of whole milk has fifteen grams of fat, 2 percent has ten grams, 1 percent has five.

Then I deep-sixed the juice. This was easy. I accidentally-on-purpose forgot to buy juice boxes and all we had was water. Oops! Sorry. Actually, I read the labels, and there are 90 to 120 calories in some of those juice boxes. Some kids drink two to four every day. The nutritionist who works in my office recommended finding a cute water bottle without BSP-a (a chemical in clear plastic and many other products that may be a carcinogen) and refilling it.

As the Godfather would have said, “Leave the chips. Take the carrots.” On long car or plane rides, we used to pack fun snacks, or grab burgers with a soda or bottled tea. Now, instead, it’s a bag of carrots, low-fat string cheese, grapes, blueberries or cut-up melon, and roasted almonds. We’re all set! And, we don’t arrive bloated and uncomfortable. And because it’s a variety of foods, we’re not as hungry.

Shake a Leg!
It’s not just about food, though. I found that increasing our activity also helped all of us slim down.

And if you look at it as “play” rather than “exercise,” you see that it’s what we’re all naturally inclined to do. Kids love to run, jump, slide, climb, and goof off. Give them the opportunity and they are much more likely to get up off the couch for a bike ride or visit to the park.

But what about the times when you can’t get out? One of my friends bought her daughter a dance video game, with an interactive dance mat that gets the whole family up grooving to the music. Even the Nintendo Wii system at least gets people off the couch and moving their arms.

Here’s what I do: Every Saturday or Sunday morning, we hike in the hills near our house. For the first twenty minutes, I have to put up with whining and complaining from my ten-year-old about how much he hates to walk. I’m not above using a little guilt that I picked up from my own mother. I say something like, “You may not remember all the times I didn’t feel like taking you out in your stroller when you were a baby, but I did it because you loved it and I love you. Now, it’s your turn to take your mom for a walk, so quit your whining, and get your butt in the car.”

Read the remainder of the article—and learn more family-healthy tips—here.

By Barbara Dehn for Hybrid Mom