Two-Year-Olds Join the Ranks of the Overweight
New Heart Association Guidelines Address This Troubling Trend
Two-year-olds are getting larger, right along with the rest of America. Pediatric experts note that 10 percent of 2-year-olds are overweight, doubling the rate from the mid-1970s. And the Centers for Disease control recently reported that roughly 2 million U.S. children ages 12 to 19 have a pre-diabetic condition linked to obesity and inactivity that puts them at risk for full-blown diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
This alarming trend has prompted new guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA). The guidelines, approved in July, state that being overweight so early can cause a variety of health problems later in life. Furthermore, obese youngsters are more likely to become obese adults.
What’s going on? The AHA states that parents today are less likely to prepare whole, healthy, natural foods and encourage their young children to eat them. Parents often grab dinner from take-out windows, and even the youngest members of the family eat fried, fatty foods. As a result, toddlers are eating too much junk food and too few vegetables.
Give them heart-healthy foods, from the start
It is estimated that 75 to 90 percent of the cardiovascular disease epidemic is related to high cholesterol levels, hypertension, diabetes, tobacco use, physical inactivity, and obesity. The principal causes of these risk factors are adverse behaviors, including poor nutrition, says the AHA. The atherosclerotic process begins in youth, culminating in the excess development of vascular plaque in the 30s and 40s age range.
To improve children’s nutrition and prevent heart problems, the AHA recommends the following guidelines:
- Children 2 and older should eat mostly fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and non-fat dairy products, beans, fish and lean meat – the same whole-foods regimen recommended for healthy adults. This includes low intakes of saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, and added sugar and salt.
Parents should keep offering healthy foods if children initially refuse them. Experts say it can take up to 10 tries for a child to accept a new food.
Children 2 and older should get at least one hour of exercise every day.
The current guidelines allow for a more liberal intake of unsaturated fat and a focus on ensuring adequate intakes of omega-3 fatty acids.
Caloric guidelines for toddlers are as follows: One-year-olds should eat 900 calories, and 2- or 3-year-olds should consume 1,000 calories. Active children should consume more. (Increase by up to 200 calories per day if moderately physically active and by 200–400 calories per day if very physically active.)
What do children eat now?
When toddlers make a transition from a milk-based diet to adult foods, the types of vegetables consumed change adversely, says the AHA. Deep yellow vegetables are consumed by 39 percent of children at 7 to 8 months and by only 13 percent at 19 to 24 months, whereas French fries become the most commonly consumed vegetable by this age. Similarly, fruit consumption declines to the point where one-third of 19- to 24-month-old children consume no fruit, whereas 60 percent consume baked desserts, 20 percent consume candy, and 44 percent consume sweetened beverages on a given day. These high-calorie foods are often the easiest foods to serve, but they offer little nutritional benefit and contribute to obesity.
Lately, older children’s nutrition has also taken a turn for the worse, says the AHA. Fewer children eat a regular breakfast, and children are consuming more foods prepared away from the home, consuming more total calories from snacks and more fried and nutrient-poor foods. Children are also eating significantly larger portion sizes at each meal and drinking sweetened beverages more frequently. Dairy product consumption has decreased, as well as fruit and vegetable consumption (other than potatoes). School-age children are likely to try fad diets and eat unhealthy foods from vending machines. On top of this, the percentage of pupils attending physical education classes has decreased.
Parents should guide the choices
According to the AHA, parents should remember that they are responsible for choosing which foods to make available to children and also for when and where they are eaten. The child is responsible for whether or not he or she wants to eat and how much. But pressuring children to eat and restricting access to specific foods are not recommended strategies, because they often lead to overeating and an increased interest in “forbidden” items. To read the entire report or obtain a copy, visit the heart association’s Web site. For guidance in feeding your family a healthy diet, make an appointment with a Bastyr nutrition team by calling (206) 834-4100 and be sure to check out other articles in the Children’s Health section of Bastyr Center’s Web site.
Source: AHA Dietary Recommendations for Children and Adolescents; Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Author: Sydney Maupin, staff writer