2 simple ways parents can help prevent childhood obesity
Overeating can be a problem for people of all ages, but new research suggests there may be a solution for children: Use smaller dishes and eat more often.
Researchers tracked 42 elementary school children who were able to serve themselves lunch. They found that children using smaller plates ate less food, according to the study, published online April 8 in the journal Pediatrics. In fact, they consumed an average of 90 calories less per meal.
“If your children are used to filling up and clearing their plates, this is a simple approach to cutting calories,” says Jenylle Rys, the supervisor for child and older adult services at Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center. “Serving meals on smaller plates makes sense. Most adults should not be piling food onto our current plate sizes in America, [let alone children].”
Courtney Southwood, a registered dietician at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill, echoed Rys’s assessment. The study’s small sample size and its focus on African-American children means the results likely cannot be generalized. But Southwood says the logic makes sense.
“Portion distortion is a common problem. Portion sizes have nearly tripled in the last 30 to 40 years,” she explains. “Many individuals do not realize how many calories they are consuming because they often are not sticking to recommended serving sizes.”
Another study, also published April 8 in Pediatrics found that eating more often can help control kids’ weight. Researchers examined at the results of 21 studies about eating frequency for nearly 19,000 young people, ages 2 to 19. The ones who ate meals more frequently most often had a lower body weight.
These strategies are among parents’ best bets for curbing childhood obesity trends, say Southwood and Rys. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of kids and teens in the U.S. are obese. That amounts to twice as many obese children and three times as many obese teens than there were 30 years ago.
“Children today often skip breakfast, dislike school lunch, and then overeat after school and at dinner to compensate for the calories missed during the day,” Southwood explains. “Smaller, more frequent meals consisting of portion-controlled healthy choices, while increasing physical activity are the best practices for healthy living. Eating more frequently assists individuals in keeping their metabolisms active, never getting so hungry that they end up making poor eating decisions later.”
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