As a parent, you may have joined countless other adults who decided to begin a weight loss plan for 2013. But maybe your child needs a plan as well.

My clinic is in Denton County and our children face an obesity issue, just like in almost every county and state in our nation. Want proof? Take a look at the 2012 Communitywide Children’s Health Assessment & Planning Survey (CCHAPS) survey, conducted by The Center for Children’s Health, led by Cook Children’s.

The respondents to the CCHAPS survey found that 25 percent of 4 and 5 year olds were considered overweight or obese. That’s one out of every four.

Scary numbers, however, you can make a few simple but effective lifestyle changes to make your young child healthier this year and in the future. Obesity is often hereditary and is a lifelong issue. Starting healthy eating habits as young as possible is a very important key to success. Here’s some advice that hopefully can help:

  1. Drink mainly water and milk (do skim, 1% or 2% milk, depending on what your family enjoys). Drink several glasses of water every day!!!! Avoid juices, soft drinks, and energy drinks.
  2. Do several small meals daily. Ideally a large breakfast, moderate lunch, small dinner, and nothing for about 2 hours before bed time. Also include a couple of healthy snacks in between meals.
  3. Avoid “fast foods” as much as possible. In theory, it is possible to eat out and eat healthy, but it is very hard to do!! It’s also very expensive.
  4. You can eat as many vegetables/salads as you want as long as there is not excessive sauces, butter, cheese, etc. Do a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and meats daily. Avoid excess gravies or sauces that have extra calories.
  5. Eat at the table and try to avoid eating in front of the TV where it is easier to eat in excess.
  6. Try to eat meats with less fat and calories. These include more fish and poultry and less beef and pork. Fix the meats by grilling or baking and avoid fried foods.
  7. If portion size is an issue, try putting the food on the counter away from the table and serve from there.
  8. Eat slowly.
  9. Encourage exercise – especially things that emphasize cardio and raise the heart rate 3 – 4 times a week such as swimming, walking, running, bike riding, etc. Often families can exercise together, join health clubs, etc. to encourage success.
  10. Older children (4 and up) especially should take in lots of protein and less carbohydrates. Protein keeps you filled up longer and helps with muscle strength. Good natural sources include things like lean meats, milk and milk products, cheese, yogurt, almonds or nuts, beans, tofu, eggs, etc. Other things can include protein shakes, muscle milk, or protein bars. Carbohydrates include things such as breads, potatoes, rice, cereals, pasta, etc. These give you energy and are OK before a big sporting event, but in general should be limited.
  11. AVOID excess junk food such as chips and candies !!! Occasional treats are OK, but in general you should keep these items out of the house entirely. If they are there – someone will eat them.
  12. Try to avoid using food as a reward for good behavior.
  13. Weigh about once a week and use positive rewards for maintaining or losing weight. Do not weigh daily since normal weight will often fluctuate 2-3 pounds each day and can be discouraging.

Dr. Eckel is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and has been in general practice since 1983. He has a large general pediatric practice and has a special interest in international adoptions. He takes care of children from newborn to age 21 years of age and is on several “second generation” families in Denton.

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