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Kids need snack guidance
It probably won't surprise you that kids between 3 and 16 tend to prefer sweet and fatty foods, and parents know that smaller children often prefer familiar foods that they like and are resistant to new foods. That said, left to their own devices children usually will eat about the number of calories they require.

Kids Enjoy the Low-Fat Version, Too
Helping overweight children lose weight is tricky. Not only do they need a certain amount of excess calories to foster healthy growth, but as any parent will tell you, small children like to eat things that taste good to them, and they won't eat things that don't taste good.

Start your kids out right
I've said over and over that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It keeps your metabolism up, helps you avoid injudicious snacking, and keeps you satisfied until lunch so that you don't overeat. People who skip breakfast tend to eat more calories throughout the day and tend to have higher Waist to Hip ratios and higher Body Mass Indices than those who eat breakfast.


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Overweight children often remain overweight

Childhood obesity has nearly tripled since the 1970's, yet there are no clear guidelines to help pediatricians identify which children are at risk of obesity and when. Using growth data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, researchers from six locations around the United States tried to identify one of the early signs of adolescent obesity (J Pediatrics 2006;118(2):594-601).

Data collection began in 1991 when qualifying healthy newborns were identified and their families contacted for recruitment. The initial 1,364 infants were weighed and measured at ages 24, 36, and 54 months, then at 7, 9, 11 and 12 years of age. For the study, only those children who had complete height and weight results for all seven ages were included: 555 children in all.

The researchers analyzed the height and weight records of the children in light of their weight status at age 12: were they of normal weight, overweight (Body Mass Index between the CDC 85th and 95th percentile), or obese (BMI above 95th percentile)? What they found may surprise you:

Children who were overweight at any one time during their preschool period were over 5 times more likely to be overweight at age 12 than those who were not overweight at 24, 36, or 54 months.

The more times a child was overweight during the elementary school period (7, 9, and 11 years) the greater their chance of being overweight at age 12: 1 time = 25 times more likely; 2 times = 159 times more likely; and 3 times = 374 times more likely. In addition, the earlier a child became overweight, the more likely it was that the child would be overweight at 12.

These results are sobering. The researchers note that although the children in the sample came from all over the United States, it is a relatively small sample, with a comparatively high percentage of economically well-off families and a lower percentage of non-whites than the United States as a whole. They theorize on that basis, however, that their findings are therefore underestimating the problem for the country as a whole.

What this means for you

Check with your pediatrician if you're concerned about your children's weight. Remember, it's never too soon (or too late!) to learn how to eat healthy. You can best help your children avoid overweight and obesity by setting a good example: your whole family will love the recipes from the Comfort Food version of The Dr. Gourmet Diet Plan, which includes familiar foods like Creamy Mac 'n' Cheese, Spaghetti with Meatballs, and Pepperoni Pizza.

First posted: September 29, 2006