How to Help Your Overweight Preschooler
When it comes to rolls, the more the merrier – both in bakeries and on babies. There’s something irresistible about an infant with chubby cheeks and thighs to match. (Why do you think baby rompers are all the rage?)
As infants age and their activity levels increase, the baby fat tends to melt away. For some tots, however, baby fat becomes a stubborn houseguest who refuses to evacuate the premises. And while these youngsters may look as adorable as ever, carrying extra pounds can have detrimental consequences. It’s no wonder you want to help your child lose weight!
If you’re a parent of an overweight preschooler, you have a challenge in front of you: How do you encourage your child to lose weight without damaging his or her self-esteem?
Is my preschooler overweight?
Before you make a decision on how to address your child’s weight problem, it’s wise to determine whether or not your child has a weight problem to begin with. Sometimes the number on the scale doesn’t paint a clear picture.
Super strong, atypically muscular children might measure on growth charts as overweight even though they are lean and fit.
For example, let’s pretend there are two preschoolers of the same age, weight, height and gender. Both children fall into the 90th percentile on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts used by most doctors and are therefore considered “overweight.” However, while child A appears a bit pudgy and soft, child B is lean and muscular. How can this be?
The reason these children can weigh the same amount but have markedly different body composition is muscle density. Put simply, while one pound of muscle weighs exactly as much as one pound of fat, muscle is denser than fat and occupies less space in the body, as Weight Watchers explained. Therefore, kids who are atypically muscular can have a high BMI but no excess body fat.
If you’re still unsure whether or not your preschooler is overweight, a quick visit to the pediatrician should help you sort it out.
How to help your chubby preschooler
Carrying extra weight in childhood can lead to problems down the road such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, overweight and obese children are more likely to be overweight adults. Did you know that, according to the Obesity Action Coalition, obese adults are at a 20 percent greater risk of depression?
Of course, you hope that your child will live a happy and healthy life, so it’s only natural you’re interested in helping him or her develop better eating and exercise habits. Still, you might be worried about damaging your preschooler’s self-esteem in the process. After all, one study, published in Eating and Weight Disorders, showed that women “who remembered their parents’ comments about their weight were less satisfied with their size as adults.” This finding might also explain the correlation between childhood diets and eating disorder development. In other words, you must tread carefully.
“Hold silly contests: Who can make up the best dance move?”
The best way to encourage healthy habits is to model them yourself. Make it a family effort by taking these steps together:
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store and fill at least 3/4 of your cart with fresh produce and protein.
- Spring clean your cabinets and pantry. Ditch any processed foods that are high in sugar and/or fat and low in nutrients.
- Cook meals together – try out new recipes featuring nutrient-dense whole foods such as quinoa and beans.
- Try family fun activities that encourage everyone to be physical (bowling, laser tag, hiking, jumping on a trampoline, geocaching).
- Hold silly contests: Who can make up the best dance move? Who can jump the furthest? Who can drink a green smoothie the quickest?
It’s crucial that you keep the focus off of your child’s physical appearance – instead, facilitate open discussions about how to be healthy and happy. Remember, your child’s sense of self and self-worth starts with you.