How to fat-proof your child

Avoid childhood obesity by adopting these good habits now.

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As your bundle of energy charges round the sitting room and races up and down stairs, it’s hard to imagine he could ever have a weight problem.

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But what he eats as a baby and toddler can have a huge effect on his taste for life. In years to come, if he’s sitting at a desk job feeling peckish, whether he reaches for a doughnut or an apple could be down to the food he’s eating now. What to do?

Spot the hidden fat

Babies aged under 2 need full-fat milk and other full-fat dairy foods, but avoid added fat in snacks and ready meals. If they get used to fatty foods and snacks between meals, it will be hard to stop. By 2, you can switch to semi-skimmed milk, providing they eat a healthy diet.

  • Podge-buster: Check the fat content on food labels.

Watch out for added sugar

Some of the worst offenders here are foods aimed at children: novelty breakfast cereals, especially frosted and chocolate-coated versions; and tinned spaghetti and pasta shapes.

  • Podge-buster: Shredded or Puffed Wheat cereals, and Weetabix are lower in sugar. Instead of buying tinned pasta, choose dried pasta and add a ready-made sauce.

Start off breastfeeding

Breastmilk is the perfect food for your baby. It’s nourishing and full of goodies that not only fight infection but also help protect against obesity. Breastfeeding for a week or two is good, but the longer you breastfeed, the greater the benefits.

  • Podge-buster: If you bottlefeed, make up the formula as advised and don’t be tempted to make your baby finish every bottle. Let them feed on demand, as a breastfed baby would.

Go easy on juice

Watch out for natural sugars in fruit juice. Even 100% fruit juice is high in calories because it contains a lot of natural sugars. Many juice drinks are sweetened and fizzy drinks are loaded with sugar and calories. Children often drink huge quantities in a day, so dilute it 50/50 with water and encourage them to drink water throughout the rest of the day.

  • Podge-buster: If you start the water habit early on, your child will never know any different and will happily glug down a glass of tap water.

Get them moving

Children who watch more than four hours of TV a day tend to be heavier than those restricted to less than two hours. Make an effort to get out of the house every day and let your tot have a run about in the playground or garden for an hour.

  • Podge-buster: Getting them into the exercise habit early will help motivate them and keep them fit and slim for life.

Set a good example

Try to eat together so that meal times become a family event. Watch your own weight too. Children who have an overweight mum are three times more likely to become overweight adults, as they tend to follow the same eating habits.

  • Podge-buster: Children are influenced by what you eat. If you snack on biscuits and cakes, you can’t expect your child to stick to carrots and dried fruit.

Set limits

Most toddlers control their own appetite and will stop eating once they feel full. But high-fat, high-sugar food is addictive so you may need to help them put the brakes on:

  • Podge-buster: Be firm about when they eat sweets. Limit them to a special ‘sweet’ day on the same day of every week. That way, your child can look forward to it.

There’s no great mystery about why kids get fat. It’s simply a case of eating too much and exercising too little. The more active a child is, the more energy they’ll use and the less fat is stored up, so get them out for a run around in the fresh air every day.

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Your GP clinic will carry out regular weight and growth checks to keep an eye on everything and check your child is growing normally. If you’re worried, don’t wait for you next appointment – ask your GP or health visitor for advice.

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