Chubby cheeks, chubby hands, chubby belly: They make babies so huggable. But that pudgy appeal can quickly become a health concern.
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“It’s normal for a child to slim down between ages 2 and 5,” says pediatrician Roy Kim, MD. “Your child will look their thinnest about the time they start kindergarten.”
It’s hard to eyeball a healthy weight, though. That’s why all kids should see their doctor regularly to make sure their body mass index (BMI) is within a healthy range, between the 5th and 85th percentile.
A BMI at or above the 85th percentile is classified as having overweight and above the 95th percentile is regarded as having obesity. That can bring on a bundle of illnesses — as if not keeping up with other kids on the playground weren’t hurtful enough:
- High blood pressure and/or cholesterol.
- Fatty liver disease.
- Worsened asthma.
- Sleep disturbances, including snoring and sleep apnea, which has been linked to behavior problems.
Shockingly, the Centers for Disease Control reports that about 18.5% of kids in the United States between ages 2 and 19 have obesity. But what can be done to lower that skyrocketing number?
Dr. Kim suggests these three things you can do if your child has overweight or obesity — and the solution relies on you to help your child maintain a healthy weight. Your kids are more likely to make healthy choices if you lead by example.
Active play is the best way for toddlers and young children to get their exercise. Get active with your toddler by playing tag, hide and seek or ball. You can even go to a park or playground, take walks together or have a dance party in your living room.
“Get active with your kids,” says Dr. Kim. “Don’t tell them to go outside and do something. Do it with them.”
A good guideline is 60 minutes of aerobic activity per day for children age 6 and up, but this can be split up into more than one session. The CDC also recommends encouraging your child to do aerobic activities at least three days a week to make their hearts beat faster and make them breathe faster. Don’t forget to include muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities in the mix, too, like jumping and climbing. Muscle strengthening is added after age 5.
“Once a week, do a fun physical activity as a family,” says Dr. Kim. “This is a great way to role model an active lifestyle for our kids.”
We all would love to eat chicken nuggets and greasy french fries on a daily basis without it hurting our health. But if chicken nuggets and fries are all your kids eat, encourage them to try a new food — with you. Turn healthy eating into a fun family adventure.
Lead by example. The United States Department of Agriculture suggests you cover half of your meal plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy protein and be sure to limit fats and sugars. Fill your toddler’s plate with the same healthy food you eat, but make sure to add appropriate portions on their plates.
If your child usually drinks sugary beverages, start by gradually replacing them with water with the end goal to completely cut out sweetened drinks. Every little bit helps and puts your toddler on the path toward a healthy lifestyle.
After those long days of work, school assignments and running errands, it’s tempting to just whip up some dinner, melt into the couch and get lost on our smartphones or screens.
As tempting as that is, make those evening mealtimes with your family a priority. When you eat together at the table, make sure the TV is off and everyone sets aside their mobile devices.
“Limiting your own screen time sets an example for your kids,” says Dr. Kim.
Focus on each other during this time and listen to each other. Talk about your day and learn how your kids are doing physically and emotionally. Knowing their health concerns is the first step to resolving them.