Excess weight continues to be an important health concern for many of America’s children. And the problem starts at a young age.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Overweight children are more likely to keep those excess pounds and remain overweight as adults. In addition, overweight children have many of the same health issues seen in overweight adults (like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol).
- Nearly 14 percent of two- to five-years olds are overweight.
- Among those 6 to 11, nearly 19 percent are overweight.
- Over 17 percent of the 12- to 19-year-olds are overweight.
Weight gain occurs when the body takes in more calories than it uses. The ideal way to lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight, is to balance calories and energy expenditure through a healthy diet and regular exercise. The CDC reports many children don’t eat properly. Only 20 percent of American children eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Fewer than 40 percent meet fiber recommendations. And 85 percent of adolescent and teen girls don’t get enough calcium.
Keli Hawthorne, R.D., a Registered Dietitian with Children's Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, says the best way to gauge how well you meet dietary guidelines is to use a nutrition facts label found on packaged foods. Food labels are based on a 2000-calorie/day diet and are relevant for most Americans four and older. (Parents who have a child with specific nutritional concerns should seek advice from a registered dietitian.)
Hawthorne says there are several important things to look for on a nutrition
facts label. First is serving size. The top line lists the amount per serving as well as the number of servings in the container or package. This number is important because looks can be deceiving. A food that appears to be a single-serving package may actually contain one-and-half or more servings. Thus, if a package contains two servings and all of it is consumed, the nutritional values must be doubled. Second, check the number of calories and calories from fat (the second line). According to the FDA, 100 calories is a considered a moderate amount. 40 calories is low and 400 calories is high. The number of calories from fat is important because even low calorie foods can have high amounts of fat.
The next few lines list the amount of fat, cholesterol and sodium. Hawthorne recommends consumers follow a “5 and 20 rule,” with five percent being a low amount of the nutrient and 20 percent being a high amount. Fat, cholesterol and sodium are nutrients that, in excess, can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. So less is better – aim for 5 percent. There is no percent value for trans fat. However, this fat should be limited because it has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease.
The next lines list carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and proteins. Look for foods that are low in sugars and high in fiber. Children need protein to build and repair muscle, blood and organs.
The last few lines list important nutrients, like vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. Using the same 5- and 20- rule, look for foods that have more of these ingredients – aiming closer to 20 percent. Health experts say it’s important to teach young children the importance of good nutrition because poor dietary habits in childhood can have lasting effects, leading to significant arterial plaque by 30 or 40. Hawthorne says children as young as 9 can be taught to read and understand a food label, enabling them to make wiser choices in the foods they eat.
It makes sense that kids need to be taught how to eat healthy and they learn from example. I guess some of us aren't setting the best example. I can barely get my four-year-old to eat anything, but my one-year old eats everything. I think the way the child naturally eats should be taken into consideration when we teach kids how to eat.