Should You Put Your Kids on a Diet?

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Food, food, food. The ads, the signs, the daily stories about an epidemic of childhood obesity. Often toddlers like juice, but that doesn’t have to be all they are offered.” (And, incidentally, scientists have established that no one needs soda to live.)

Exercise

Kids’ bodies are built to move — and kids need to wiggle and play! Ever notice how a toddler will whirl in circles if no other activity is presented? So often, Corrales-Yauckoes says, parents she sees will say the kids can’t go outside because it’s not safe or no one is there to supervise them. Usually there is some way around that, such as an after-school program.

She recommends, in fact, that kids go outside right after school. “Go out the minute they get home. Otherwise, they will sit in front of the TV, play video games, or do homework, then dinner, then no one is going out (unless it’s for organized sports).”

Just 20 minutes to half an hour under the portable basketball hoop can be great exercise. “Their brains are fried after school,” she says. “That’s when they need to play!” Corrales-Yauckoes is also in favor of Dance Dance Revolution and other video games that require the kid to gyrate around and shake out the sillies.

Taking a Stand

“We don’t call it exercise,” she says. “We call it moving.”

“Well-fed kids,” Antonello adds, “are more likely to be active and want to play or exercise. The human body is designed with movement in mind!”

Parents, she says, should take a stand, and by that she means physically stand in front of the TV or between the kid and the computer. Go out, go in the basement, do something! “They will find something to do,” she says.

And parents? Take better advantage of the weekend to move with kids. Corrales-Yauckoes says she is amazed at how many parents do not do active things with kids on weekends.

Fitting In

“The culture has changed so dramatically,” Lyons sighs. “The state of Alabama is putting kids’ body mass index number on their report cards. This hurts. I was the third fattest kid in school; I can tell you it ruined my life to be thought of that way.”

The surgeon general has called obesity “the terror within.” How would a kid feel about that?

The Learning Channel has a TV show called Honey, We’re Killing the Kids, in which children’s pictures are computer-enhanced to show them 30 years in the future as bald, jowly, and unshaven and supposedly trudging toward that early grave they dug with their fork. The implication is only the cringing parents can prevent this.

Lyons recommends that doctors and parents focus on what the family is doing right — camping, hiking, shagging balls, going to the driving range, swimming, skiing — rather than what the kids are eating.

“We rode bikes. We walked to school. I was still the third fattest kid,” she says. “These are the most hated kids in school. Studies show that even 3-year-olds treat overweight kids differently.”

Pediatricians, she thinks, should be allies of the children and not let parents shame the kids. “No shame, no blame. Build on the positive,” Lyons says. “Talk to the child about what various nutrients add to the body, what tastes good, and what provides the most energy to feel good and do things.”

“Dieting causes obesity,” Antonello maintains.

Could be — if the kids are not getting too hungry and desperate, are eating appropriate amounts of high-quality food at appropriate intervals, and are playing more — the next growth spurt will streamline their torsos as they get taller.

Best of all — they will have healthy eating habits to pass on to their kids.