Globally, in 2013 the number of overweight children under the age of five, was estimated to be over 42 million. Close to 31 million of these are living in developing countries, including India.
Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. Overweight and obesity, as well as their related diseases, are largely preventable. Prevention of childhood obesity therefore needs high priority.
A healthy eating plan limits foods that lead to weight gain. Foods that should be limited include these:
- Fats that are solid at room temperature (like butter and lard)
- Foods that are high in calories, sugar, and salt like sugary drinks, chips, cookies, fries, and candy
- Refined grains (white flour, rice, and pasta)
Just like adults, children should replace unhealthy foods with a variety of healthy foods, including these:
- Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains like brown rice
- Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products or substitutes, like soy beverages that have added calcium and vitamin D
- Lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, soy products, and eggs
The following changes may help your child eat healthier at home:
- Buy and serve more fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned, or dried). Let your child choose them at the store. Use a new fruit to make smoothies.
- Buy fewer high-calorie foods like sugary drinks, chips, cookies, fries, and candy.
- Offer your child water or low-fat milk instead of fruit juice.
Keep healthy snack foods on hand. Try these:
- Air-popped popcorn without butter
- Fresh, frozen, dried, or canned fruit served plain or with low-fat yogurt
- Fresh vegetables, like baby carrots, cucumber, zucchini, or tomatoes
- Low-sugar, whole-grain cereal with low-fat or fat-free milk or a milk substitute fortified with calcium and vitamin D
Other ways to support healthy eating habits include these:
- Make healthy choices easy. Put nutritious foods where they are easy to see and keep any high-calorie foods out of sight.
- Eat fast food less often. When you do visit a fast food restaurant, encourage your family to choose the healthier options, such as salads with low-fat dressing.
- Plan healthy meals and eat together as a family so you can explore a variety of foods together.
To help your child develop a healthy attitude toward food, try these ideas:
- Don’t use food as a reward when encouraging kids to eat. Promising dessert to a child for eating vegetables, for example, sends the message that vegetables are less valuable than dessert.
- Explain the reasons for eating whatever it is you are serving. Don’t make your child clean his or her plate.
- Limit eating to specific meal and snack times. At other times, the kitchen is “closed.”
- Avoid large portions. Start with small servings and let your child ask for more if he or she is still hungry.
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