Childhood obesity has been steadily on the rise in the U.S., and the recent pandemic has worsened matters. A recent study showed that since the onset of Covid-19, there was a 9% increase in obesity among young children, with an average weight gain of five pounds.
A preschooler’s body goes through many changes as they get taller and develop more muscle, so it can be difficult for some parents and caregivers to know if their child is overweight or just simply growing. At the same time, preschool is when pediatricians can initially identify weight issues by plotting BMI (body mass index) on a child’s growth chart. By spotting obesity or overweight cases early, doctors and parents can work together to help children build better eating habits.
Why Should Parents Be Concerned?
When a child’s growth rate points to a risk of being obese or overweight, parents of preschoolers may be tempted to lean towards a “wait and see” approach. After watching a 4-year-old run around the playground, dance around the house, and finish the day with a hearty meal, is there really a reason to be concerned? If they’re eating larger portions, but still exercising, won’t the problem eventually resolve itself as they mature?
While healthy meals and exercise are great for young kids, it is incredibly important to understand what it means to be overweight or obese. Children who are identified as obese or overweight by their pediatricians are more likely to suffer from serious medical conditions, including:
- Abnormal lipid levels
- High blood pressure
- Sleep Apnea
- Back pain
- Liver disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Pancreatitis (inflammation in the pancreas)
In addition to these medical issues, kids who are overweight often struggle with psychological and social-emotional problems as well. If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, it’s important to speak with your pediatrician or a pediatric nutritionist for guidance on managing their weight loss in a positive and healthy way.
How to Help Young Children Manage Weight Loss
How parents approach a kid’s weight loss journey can significantly impact its effectiveness. Here are some tips on helping preschoolers and other young children with their weight:
Never tease a child for their weight.
It’s never okay to make fun of a child for their weight. Many might think that teasing a child might motivate them to lose weight, but it only harms their self-worth and self-esteem. Always intervene if a friend or family member makes negative comments about your child’s weight in their presence.
Focus on a positive body image.
It’s essential for a child to learn to love their body and be comfortable and confident in their appearance. Try to avoid using weight-related words around them. Even telling a young child that they look “skinnier” or “thinner” can set an unhealthy precedence on weight and body image.
Don’t let them do it alone.
Children have a greater chance of losing weight when the whole family eats healthier together. Avoid singling out a child with a strict diet or different meals. Their chances of progressing in their weight loss journey will be much more successful if parents and siblings are all on board.
Offer praise for healthy behaviors.
Remember to praise them when they make healthy decisions on their own. If they decide to be active instead of watching TV or choose a nutritious snack over a bag of chips, high-fives are in order! Positive praise from parents and caregivers can go a long way in their world.
With the right support and a collective family effort, your child can learn to be more conscious about what they eat and love the body they were born into!