The little things parents do can make a big difference for their child’s health and can prevent childhood obesity. For example, did you know that babies form taste patterns and preferences by nine months of age? And the first two years of a child’s life are when they establish many of their eating habits?
That’s why I encourage parents to give young children healthy options with a variety of colors and flavors when they start solid foods. Pediatricians and family doctors talk to families about habits like these – the earlier the better – because we know that obesity in kids is increasing, and more prevalent among Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black children.
Childhood Obesity Rates by Age
12.7% - age 2-5 years
20.7% - age 6-11 years
22.2% - age 12-19 years
9.0% - Non-Hispanic Asian children
Childhood Obesity Rates by Ethnicity
26.2% - Hispanic children
24.8% - Non-Hispanic Black children
16.6% - Non-Hispanic White children
*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The 5-2-1-0 Plan
Helping prevent obesity and achieving a healthy weight is a key role for pediatricians and family doctors. In my practice, I guide parents with a simple plan called 5-2-1-0, which is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Each day, families should aim for:
5 or more servings of fruits/vegetables
2 or fewer hours recreational screen time
1 or more hours physical activity
0 sugary drinks, including juices and sports drinks
I talk to families about the 5-2-1-0 plan regardless of a child’s weight because it’s a healthy approach everyone can follow. In fact, it’s important for parents to be positive role models by leading with these healthy choices.
Change isn’t always easy, and there’s often resistance to adopting new habits. My role as a pediatrician is also to provide education about misconceptions people often have about childhood weight and healthy habits.
Tips for Parents on Childhood Obesity
“How do I say no?” Parents often think they should let kids indulge in sugary drinks and snacks because it’s part of childhood. I tell them teaching children healthy habits will not harm them, and will do a lifetime of good. Tips I offer:
- To make fruits and vegetables the foundation of a healthy diet, aim for:
- 1 serving at breakfast
- 2 at lunch
- 3 with dinner and snacks
- Beware of unhealthy snacks in the pantry and in school lunches.
- For snacks, try celery sticks, apple slices, or carrots dipped in peanut butter or low-calorie salad dressing.
Common Phrases to Reconsider
“It’s just lemonade.” Children really don’t need to drink anything other than milk and water. Fruit juices, sports drinks and even lemonade can be laden with sugar. I tell parents to read the labels. Look for sugar-free, zero-calorie options if you want something other than milk and water.
“My child needs his/her cellphone at night …” Having rules around devices is healthy, but many parents let children keep cell phones in their bedrooms because they’re used as an alarm clock. That leads to overuse -- often late into the night. I encourage parents to set limits and keep cellphones out of children’s bedrooms overnight. Consider making a family rule to plug in all phones in a central location every night.
“We’re just night owls.” We as a society don’t give enough importance to sleep. Lack of sleep contributes to the risk of being overweight. Getting enough sleep is an important healthy habit to adopt for the entire family.
“They’ll grow into it.” This is what many parents say if their child’s body mass index falls into a percentile that is considered overweight or obese. I tell them it’s okay to talk about weight loss when it’s appropriate. For children who are obese, it’s okay to have weight loss as a goal in close collaboration with your family doctor. Pediatricians and family doctors look at where children fall on the growth chart, so we can take an active approach to management of weight issues. It starts with developing a plan and setting goals around diet and exercise - and following up to guide progress.
It’s never too late to make a healthy change. A good approach is to start with one goal that the child helps choose, such as giving up a sugary beverage. Work on that goal for two weeks. Once you’ve mastered it, move on to another goal. Make it simple, straightforward and attainable. Every positive change is a step toward better health for life.
For more information reach out to a CHI Health Family Medicine provider.