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As your child’s eating habits become firmly established, you may become concerned about her weight. Overweight toddlers may be on the increase, but as long as your little one is active and eating a healthy, nutritious diet, you can be sure that she’ll put on the correct amount of weight for her individual body type and needs.
Q: How can I tell if my young child has a weight problem?
A: Again, as discussed in previous chapters, the best way to make an assessment is to use the child growth charts that are supplied by your doctor or health professional when your baby was born. Keeping tabs on weight by ensuring that your child sits on roughly the same “percentile line” as he grows is a very good way to establish whether your child’s weight is right for him. If he suddenly jumps up a great deal on the weight front, but his height doesn’t show the same change, there may be reason to suspect that he is overweight. BMI charts may also be used by your doctor. A BMI is a number calculated from an individual’s weight and height, which is used to determine whether the person is within, or outside of, a normal weight range.

Try not to panic. If your child looks healthy and doesn’t have any obvious rolls of fat, his clothing size is appropriate for his age, and no one has ever made any suggestion that he’s overweight, he’s probably just fine.

Interestingly, studies have found that most parents are unable to assess accurately when their children do have problems with their weight—ask your doctor if you have concerns.

Q: Should I put my overweight child on a diet?
A: No child, no matter how “overweight” they are, should be put on a diet. The childhood years are extremely important for growth and development, and cutting down on food, or cutting out food groups, can leave a desperate shortfall of important nutrients. Instead, swap over to a healthier diet, with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy snacks, and limit foods that are high in unhealthy fats. Add to this a great deal more exercise, and your child will eventually grow into her weight as she becomes taller.
Q: Are there any healthy foods that can fill up my child without leading to him becoming overweight?
A: The idea is to aim for food that will keep him going throughout the day, and fill his tummy without adding unnecessary fats or sugars.

The best foods to choose are fresh fruits and vegetables, which have very few calories, but which provide lots of nutrition and energy. Similarly, unrefined carbohydrates, such as whole wheat bread, pasta, and breakfast cereals, and pulses provide an excellent source of energy, and expand to fill the tummy when they are digested.

So aim for pasta dishes with plenty of vegetables, breakfast cereal with lots of fresh fruit, fruit smoothies, toast with nut butters (a source of healthy fats) and a glass of fruit juice, breadsticks and vegetable crudités with fresh dips, and lots of fresh fruit offered throughout the day.

Q: My child seems to have a limitless appetite and is putting on weight; how can I encourage her to eat smaller portions?
A: First of all, don’t immediately assume that weight gain is a sign of impending weight problems. Many kids put on weight just before a growth spurt, and are starving during the same period. They then shoot up, and the weight is redistributed.

However, if you’ve noticed that your child seems to be eating constantly with no evidence of growth within a month or two, you may need to cut back a little. Offer smaller portions at mealtimes, with the option of more if she’s still hungry. She may be in a hurry to get down and get on with her day, and simply eat what’s put in front of her. She will also need to learn to recognize her own hunger “cues,” and part of that involves recognizing when she’s full, and requesting more to eat when she is still hungry. Try offering a drink when she claims to be hungry, as she may simply be thirsty.

You can also make sure that her meals have plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, which will fill her up without giving her unnecessary calories. Similarly, try to make sure that her snacks are healthy and not filling her up with unhealthy fats or sugar. One or two small, healthy snacks between meals is usually sufficient for the average toddler.

It’s also extremely important to ensure that she is active. Very active small children may be very hungry constantly since regular refueling is required to sustain high energy levels, but they won’t, as a rule, appear to put on weight. If your little one is inactive and still very hungry, the balance may be tipped toward weight problems. Most children have naturally high energy, so try to take advantage of it, and get her going!

Is chubby normal?

From babyhood through to five or six years of age, children accumulate more fat on their arms and legs than on their torsos. So dimpled thighs may not be a sign that your child is overweight.

Active kids

Treat exercise as a priority and ensure that your child is active every day. It’s important to make exercise fun and try to include the whole family, when possible—organize a bike ride, a trip to the swimming pool, or just turn on some music and dance—everyone will benefit.

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