Parents want to make sure their children are healthy, and instilling good eating and exercise habits is critical to that process.
Despite this, more than 17% of children between two and 19 years of age are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Parents of overweight children should not put their children on diets. Singling out overweight children will only discourage them and make them feel stigmatized, punished and deprived, says Lori Brizee, a nutritionist for BitWine Nutrition Advisors Network. Rather, it is important to establish healthy eating habits and regular exercise as a lifestyle for everyone.
Children have different nutritional needs than adults. Toddlers need approximately 37-41 calories per pound of body weight; their needs vary significantly over time, based on growth and physical activity. By adulthood, average needs are 14-16 calories per pound, depending on activity level.
Children need a higher percentage of calories to come from fat until they are two years old, Lori continues. We know that the risk for heart disease begins in early childhood, so after the age of two, recommendations are for fat intake to decrease to about 30% of total calories, unless a child is not gaining weight well. Children growing well can be transitioned from whole milk or breast milk to non-fat or 1%-fat milk. Children who are underweight should continue to have whole milk and have other heart-healthy fats, such as canola oil or olive oil, added to foods to increase caloric intake.
Protein needs in young children are not particularly high: 0.50 grams per pound by age one and 0.43 grams per pound by age four. If kids are meeting their needs for other nutrients, especially iron and calcium, they are meeting their protein needs, as foods high in these two nutrients are high in protein any type of dark meat or fish is a great source of iron (beef, dark meat of chicken, pork, tuna, salmon), and dairy products and many soy products are excellent sources of calcium.
Calories from carbohydrates should be derived mostly from whole grains, not processed grain (most notably: bread and pasta) or fruits and vegetables. Lori does caution against giving children under two years of age or who are not growing well a very high-fiber diet without adequate fat, as lots of high-fiber, low-calorie foods can fill young children without giving them adequate calories.
Increasing physical activity is just as critical as instilling good eating habits. Families should become more active together, Lori stresses. Active parents help children be more physically healthy by modeling positive behaviors. Turn off the TV and computer, and play outside!
Lori Brizee, MS, RD, LD, CSP, of the BitWine Nutrition Advisors Network, is a nutritionist who works with parents to ensure that their over- and underweight children reach and maintain a healthy weight. For more information on consulting with Lori or another registered dietician (RD), visit nutrition.bitwine.com via Skype. An RD will evaluate your family and childs lifestyle, eating and physical activities and help you find ways to make positive, meaningful changes to benefit your childrens and your health.