Far better than treating childhood obesity is to prevent it from happening altogether.  I posted these tips as part of a Childhood Obesity TweetUp earlier on in the year.  I thought it might be worthwhile sharing these pearls more permanently and with some more detail.  Please feel free to comment, add, or elaborate in any way that you feel may help.

Here are ten evidence-based, practical, and realistic parenting tips for early prevention of childhood obesity:

1. Breastfeed your baby
In addition to its other many benefits, Breastfeeding is the ideal way to promote healthy eating habits for your baby from day one of her life. Recent studies have linked lack of breastfeeding in infancy with increased risk of obesity in childhood.

2. Feed your baby on demand, not on a schedule.
Only a baby knows if she’s hungry and ready to feed. If an infant’s parent is deciding the feeding times, more often than not, baby will be given food when not hungry and deprived of food when hungry. Over time, this undermines the baby’s ability to develop reliable hunger and fullness sensations. Without being able to rely on these sensations, a baby never learns when to start or stop eating which can lead to overeating and subsequent obesity.

3. Parents: Role model active living so child sees exercise as part of daily life.
It is much more likely that a child will be active and eat healthily if her parents are active and eat healthily.  Babies start observing their parents from the first few months of life.  Children learn from parents showing, not telling.

4. Only stock the house with healthy and nutritious foods.
If there is only healthy food in the home, then the children – the whole family for that matter – will only eat healthy food. Though it can be difficult to overhaul your home’s food inventory, this is one of the most effective ways to promote healthy living for the whole family in a matter of days.

5. Limit liquid calories.
Limit milk intake to maximum 18 oz/day. Avoid juice and pop altogether as they are nothing but sugar and water. Some people feel that the sugar in juice is more natural and therefore healthier. All sugar is natural – table sugar comes from sugar cane which naturally grows from the ground just like oranges and apples. Nature has nothing to do with it; sugar is sugar is sugar. Keep in mind that an extra two glasses of juice per day (100 calories/glass) translates into 70,000 calories, or 20 lbs of extra weight gained in one year. That’s an extra 100 lbs of extra weight in 5 years!

6. Don’t turn treats into a ‘forbidden fruit’.
If kids feel deprived of treats, their motivation to seek out and eat treats can compound leading to uncontrolled overeating. In small portions and a few times per week, treats can be part of a sensible and healthy diet. Moderation is almost always the right answer.

7. Avoid serving kids ‘white,’ ‘processed,’ ‘nutritionally deplete’ foods.
White breads, high-sugar cereals, candy, etc ultimately drive insatiable hunger and lead to daily overeating.  See Dr. Greene’s ‘White-Out’ initiative for a great source of further information about this.

8. Serve kids lots of high fibre foods – fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains.
These foods are healthier, more filling, and help maintain a sense of fulness and satisfaction until the next meal or snack. See my blog post on healthy eating for kids  for more details about this.

9. Kids should eat a healthy, balanced, filling breakfast every day.
The best way to gain weight is by skipping breakfast. It is the fastest surefire way to become obese in no time flat. Make breakfast a balanced, filling, and satisfying meal by ensuring the kids eat from at least 3 of the 4 food groups.

10. As often as possible, eat meals together as a family.
This is fantastic advice on so many levels, but who would have imagined that eating family meals prevents obesity? This does appear to be the case, and numerous studies seem to support this. It also makes for a lovely way to wind down your family’s day.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.  Feel free to comment below.

If you live in Toronto and would like nutrition support for your child, feel free to learn more about the Kindercare Pediatric’s clinical nutrition programs.