Are you watching the weight of your young child?
If not, you probably should be, says Gary Miller, an associate professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest University.
A child who is overweight by age 5 is four times more likely to be obese by the 8th grade, according to results of a major study recently released in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Miller, who is also an assistant director of the Weight Management Clinic at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, says parents should begin managing a child’s weight before he or she is old enough to start school.
“This does not mean that children’s diets should be restricted,” Miller says. “Parents need to work with health professionals, including nutritionists and psychologists to find ways to modify lifestyles and the environment of the home.”
Tips from the table to the tennis courts
Miller offers these tips for improving family nutrition habits and optimizing overall health:
1. Take Responsibility – Research suggests that in order to instill good health habits for children, parents must be involved. Studies suggest healthy eating programs at school have little to no success changing children’s negative eating habits. Changes made at home are by far more effective.
2. The family that eats together stays healthy together – One simple step to make the home a healthier place for your child is to eat meals together as a family around the dining room table. Evidence suggests a family will have overall improved nutrition when meals are consumed together at home vs. in a restaurant.
3. Play an hour a day – Children need to engage in regular play. Do not think of this in terms of going for a jog/walk like adults. Instead, getting them moving through playing at the playground, with friends, kicking a ball, shooting baskets, etc. They are not going to like going for a run and it will not provide any more benefits than just playing. They should try to play for at least 60 minutes a day.
4. Get rid of energy dense foods – There are not many “bad” foods, but generally if parents can avoid bringing high-energy dense foods into the house, nutritional intake can improve. These would be foods such as processed cookies, cakes, doughnuts, ice cream, candy, soft drinks, etc. Keep fresh fruit around for snacks instead.
Additional research expertise
In addition to his work on nutrition, Miller is currently researching family based interventions for those at risk for developing diabetes and investigating different exercise training programs for individuals undergoing a medically supervised weight loss program.
“The need to combat obesity is across all age groups,” Miller said. “One needs to explore a variety of interventions that might be successful. There is not one treatment that will work for everyone.”