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The Path to Obesity Starts in Kindergarten

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Childhood weight plays a major role in future obesity, according to a study of more than 7,700 kindergartners. Researchers measured the height and weight of a cohort of children seven times during the course of nine years and found that those who were overweight in kindergarten were four times as likely as normal-weight peers to become obese by age 14. In fact, nearly half of all cases of obesity observed between kindergarten and eighth grade occurred in children who were overweight at age five. This major study suggests that efforts to curb childhood obesity need to start before children enter school.

Understanding when the risk of obesity is greatest can help us in identifying potential ages at which we can intervene and possibly make the greatest difference. It helps to focus on those very first years of life, as they are very important in terms of instilling healthy lifestyles. Prevention efforts should begin early so children don’t become, or remain, obese later in life. Aside from outward appearance, obesity can affect school performance. A University of California, Los Angeles study has found that obese children are more likely to have more emotional and behavioral problems, higher rates of repeating grades and developmental delays.

The modern diet has become exceedingly reliant on high-fructose corn syrup, refined grains, processed foods and artificial sweeteners. Unfortunately, some parents are unaware that feeding their children fast or prepared food meals is detrimental to their health and development. Not believing that junk food is harming their children and believing that it’s better for the child to eat something rather than nothing, even if it’s unhealthy, are very common mistakes. In my practice I see a many parents who lack knowledge of good nutrition and which foods are truly healthy. Here is some general advice on what parents can do: • Don’t use food as a comfort or reward. • Feed your child breakfast. It may be the most important meal of the day because it helps prevent hunger as the morning wears on, potentially curbing overeating later in the day. • Provide drinking water regularly and in place of fruit drinks, soda and other sweetened beverages. • Offer a mix of different colored vegetables each day, especially dark green, red and orange ones. • Serve a variety of whole fruits, rather than juice. • Ensure that all breads, cereals and pastas served are whole grain. • Opt for foods that contain healthy monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, like olive and peanut oils, avocados and most nuts, instead of foods high in trans or saturated fats, such as packaged snacks and foods fried or prepared with partially hydrogenated oil. • Avoid salty, low-nutrient foods like chips or pretzels. • Avoid high-sugar foods such as flavored milk, fruit nectars, soda and candy. Remove calorie-rich temptations. Treats are acceptable in moderation, but limiting high-fat, high-sugar and salty snacks can help your children develop healthy eating habits. Here are examples of easy-to-serve treats: • A medium-size apple • A medium-size banana • 1 cup of blueberries • 1 cup of grapes • 1 cup of carrots, broccoli or bell peppers with 2 tbsp. hummus It’s important to remember that children learn most of their health habits at home. So as a parent, you must lead by example and teach your child the importance of good nutrition and physical activity. Children need calories and nutrients to grow and develop properly, which is why it’s so important to encourage healthy foods and bypass junk and processed foods as much as possible.

By Marisol Monzayet

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