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Stop Obesity Early

Set a Good Example

6. Focus on healthy carbs.
Kids don't need a low-carb diet, they need a "right-carb" one. Carbohydrates give children energy to play and grow, and the carbs they consume should be packed with fiber and/or protein. The types found in sweetened beverages and many packaged foods are empty; they don't have the protein, fat, or fiber needed to satisfy a child. As a result, children tend to overeat these types of foods, taking in too many calories and not getting enough nutrition.

The carbohydrates found in whole-wheat bread, cereals, and fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, tend to be more filling and less fattening (in the long run), and children have less of a tendency to overeat them. How to tell if it's a "right carb"? Look at the package label. If the food is high in carbs but contains very little fiber, protein, or fat, don't buy it.

7. Fill your toddler up with fiber.
If she's at risk for obesity, is already overweight, or is one of those children who just love to eat (and overeat), give her lots of fiber, which is filling without being fattening. High-fiber foods stay in the stomach longer, where they absorb water and take up a lot of space. As a result, kids (and adults too!) feel fuller and are less likely to overeat. Great sources of fiber for toddlers include high-fiber cereals, prunes, kidney beans, lentils, whole-wheat spaghetti and bread, pears, chickpeas, sweet potatoes and oranges (leave the white membrane on).

8. Less TV for tots.
Besides the worries about what young children may see on television, pediatricians are concerned that too much TV plays a role in childhood obesity. Children (and adults) don't burn many calories sitting in front of a television set. If they're snacking mindlessly on junk food while they watch, they'll take in far more calories than they use up. What's more, even the littlest kids are influenced by what they see on the small screen: Commercials teach them that eating junk food isn't bad for you—it's fun, and it's what the cool kids eat.

If you do let your tot watch TV, watch it with him. Play games and dance along with the characters on the program. Use commercials for junk snacks to educate your child about good food. He will believe you, not the people on TV, when you tell him, "That's yucky and not good for you. It doesn't help you grow."

9. Forget the "clean-plate club."
Don't insist that your little one eat every bit of food on her plate. Your job is to serve good, healthy food, and her job is to eat as much as her body tells her she needs. Remember, tiny children have tiny tummies, so don't expect your toddler to eat three large meals a day with nothing in between. They prefer to eat small amounts, more often. Making a child "clean her plate" lessens her trust in her own hunger cues. You want her to eat when she's hungry and stop when full.

10. Get your baby moving.
Most babies are very active on their own-keeping up with them can be a challenge. But some babies and small children are quieter. They prefer to watch and think rather than dive in and participate. Since they use less energy, they tend to put on weight, and the chubbier they get, the less active they become. If this sounds like your baby, do what you can to encourage him to be more active. The best way to do this is to get down on his level and play. Lie on the floor and let him climb all over you. Play "chase me" games around the house, or go outside to walk and run.

Finally, set a good example. If you're passionate about eating right and keeping fit, your child will pick up your good habits. You have more influence over him in the first three years of his life than at any other time. Take advantage of this, and teach him about healthy living by staying lean yourself.