To A Healthy Weight For Your Child
you concerned about your child's weight?
Given the overwhelming media coverage about the "childhood obesity
epidemic," it's difficult to not be concerned. We hear almost constantly
that U.S. children are getting heavier and that we must do something
about their unhealthy diet and low physical activity.
This sounds logical doesn't it? To address the increased incidence in
overweight and obesity among our nation's youth, we just need to get
them to eat healthier food and exercise more.
But, there's a big problem with this logic --- it hasn't worked.
Kids are still getting heavier despite a massive effort by governments,
communities, schools, health associations, and parents to encourage
healthy eating and physical activity --- with these positive results:
has decreased from over 36% to less than 33% of calories (between 1971
Consumption of fruit and vegetables per capita has increased 24% (between
1970 and 1997);
Population-wide physical activity among older adolescents has increased
(based on national surveys conducted over the last several decades);
Availability of no and low-calorie food/drink has exploded;
Access to nutrition information (health classes in school, government
dietary guidelines, books, food labeling, Internet, media coverage)
is far greater;
Exercise promotion has increased significantly.
what's going on here? If eating healthier food and getting more physical
activity are the keys to weight management, why is our population of
kids still getting heavier?
In this report, I will explain why – the real reason for the "childhood
obesity epidemic" – and then share what this means as far
as your efforts to help your child reach and maintain a healthy weight.
The fallacy of the traditional advice for weight management
Despite what you've heard, the truth is that:
Your child's weight is not affected by what types
of food they eat or their level of physical activity.
I know this statement sounds heretical, so let me share the research
First, let's look at diet.
In a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on childhood
dietary predictors of obesity, the authors arrived at the following
"Overall, despite the prominent role that diet is presumed to play
in promoting adiposity, the current review found no consistent evidence
that infant or childhood diet is related to later fatness."
Parsons, TJ, et al. Childhood predictors of adult obesity: a systematic
review. International Journal of Obesity 1999; 23: S1-S107
Or consider the major study of 196 girls, 8 to 12 years old, who were
evaluated over a four-year period to determine the relationship between
consumption of energy-dense foods (baked goods, ice cream, chips, sugar-sweetened
soda, and candy) and relative weight change during adolescence. Their
"overall energy-dense food consumption does not seem to influence
weight status or change over the adolescent period."
Phillips, Sarah, et al. Energy-Dense Snack food Intake in Adolescence:
Longitudinal Relationship to Weight and Fatness. Obesity Research March,
2004; 12: 461-472
Another study of adolescent eating habits came to this conclusion:
"These data offer no evidence to support the widespread notion
that obese adolescents eat more 'junk food' than non-obese adolescents."
Bandini LG, et al. Comparison of high-calorie, low-nutrient-dense food
consumption among obese and non-obese adolescents. Obesity Research
1999; 7: 438-443
In fact, almost all research studies on childhood obesity find that
heavier children do not eat different foods than thinner children.
Now let's look at physical activity.
Here the scientific research is more inconsistent. Still, about half
the studies show no association between physical activity and obesity
--- where the average weight of more physically-active kids was not
different from more sedentary kids.
For example, in a 2006 study, 545 children with an average age of 4.2
years were split into two groups. One group were given enhanced physical
activity in the nursery (three 30 minutes sessions per week over 24
weeks) plus home based health education aimed at increasing physical
activity through play and reducing sedentary behavior. No curriculum
changes were made with the other group. The surprising result? --- after
6 and 12 months, there was no significant difference in body mass index
between the two groups. Reilly, John, et al. Physical activity to prevent
obesity in young children: cluster randomized controlled trial. British
Medical Journal November 18, 2006; 333: 1041-1043
However, some studies do show a correlation --- but almost all of these
use television viewing time as a proxy for activity levels. In other
words, they assume that frequent TV watchers are less active. Well,
it turns out that assumption might not be correct.
In a 2007 study 18,882 10-15 year old boys and girls were evaluated
over a four year period to determine if television viewing, and other
sources of sedentary behavior, are associated with leisure-time moderate/vigorous
physical activity. The researchers found no association, which they
said was consistent with most "cross-sectional studies in children
and adolescents" and "almost all studies of television viewing
and physical activity among adults." Taveras, Elsie, et al. Longitudinal
Relationship Between Television Viewing and Leisure-Time Physical Activity
during Adolescence. Pediatrics 2007; 119: 314-319
Are you surprised?
Although it's very logical that a child's weight is affected by what
types of food they eat and their level of physical activity, there's
almost no evidence to support this contention.
The scientific research doesn't support it and our actual experience
as a nation doesn't support it.
The real reason for the increased incidence in childhood obesity
Here is a statement that is well supported by scientific research and
If children pay attention to their body's natural regulatory eating
signals, their weight will settle at a level that's healthy for
their current stage of growth and development
Sure, some children first grow wide and then thin out, others grow tall
and fill in, and some end up being smaller or larger than average. That's
just the natural size-diversity of the human population. But, a child's
growth will be just fine if his or her eating patterns remain normal
--- which should be very common because disrupting them is so difficult
"Based on their natural levels of eating and activity, children
have a powerful and resilient tendency to grow consistently and predictably,
in the way nature intended them to grow. It takes a lot to disrupt that
regulatory ability to the extent that it distorts growth. Moreover,
those disruptive factors have to be powerful and continuous. Being offered
too much fat or too few fruits and vegetables won't do it. Being offered
too-large portion sizes won't do it. Going to fast-food restaurants
won't do it."
Satter, Ellyn. Your Child's Weight – Helping Without Harming.
Madison , WI : Kelcy Press, 2005: 12-13
But, here's the problem. Despite how difficult it is to disrupt a child's
natural regulatory eating signals, this almost impossible feat is occurring
with a lot of kids.
Why is this happening? It's because many children experience self- and
externally-imposed food restrictions --- due to media stereotypes of
ideal body size, advertising by the diet and food industry, parent and
physician concerns about kids being overweight, and overly-enthusiastic
These food restrictions
may be real (e.g., weight-loss diet, banning eating foods which are
considered unhealthy) or more subtle, such as parents or schools:
Labeling foods as "good" or "bad"
Using low-calorie foods
Hiding certain foods
Deliberately running out of a child's favorite food
Questioning food choices ("are you sure you want that?")
These real or subtle (but readily apparent to the child) forms of food
restriction result in the child being afraid that food might not be
available the next time they're hungry, the specific food available
now won't be available again, or there won't be enough food to provide
satisfaction when they next eat.
These fears cause
children to became preoccupied by food, lose touch with their natural
regulatory eating signals and overeat when given the opportunity. And,
as you know, such opportunities come along quite frequently:
Fast food restaurant
where a child can access huge food portions for little money;
Friends house where a child is away from their parent's eye;
Local store or vending machine where a child can buy soda and candy
with their allowance money;
Party where a buffet-style meal makes a child's eating invisible to
School where a child can access vending machines or foods from the ala
In other words, children have plenty of opportunity to abandon whatever
explicit or subtle food restrictions are placed on them and "eat
when the eating is good."
is widely known among eating specialists due to their own experiences
and because it has been demonstrated in so many research studies. Here
are some excerpts from three of the fourteen studies of which I am aware:
"In conclusion, restricting children's access to a palatable food
within their eating environment does not promote moderate patterns of
intake and paradoxically may actually promote the very behavior its
use is intended to reduce. This research supports the view that restricting
access can sensitize children to external eating cues while increasing
their desire to obtain and consume the restricted food. These findings
also suggest that the effects of restriction on children's eating will
be particularly pronounced in families in which restriction is consistently
Fisher JO, Birch LL. Restricting access to palatable foods affects children's
behavioral response, food selection, and intake. American Journal of
Clinical Nutrition 1999; 69: 1271
the current obesigenic food environment is characterized by large amounts
of inexpensive, readily available, palatable, energy-dense foods. In
response to this environment, parents may attempt to limit children's
consumption of 'junk' or 'unhealthy' foods by keeping foods out of reach
or by placing constraints on when and how much food may be consumed.
Experimental studies have shown, however, that restrictive feeding practices
increase childrens' preferences for restricted foods, heighten responsiveness
to the presence of palatable foods, and promote overeating when restricted
foods are freely available."
Birch, LL, et al. Learning to overeat: maternal use of restrictive feeding
practices promotes girls' eating in the absence of hunger. American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003; 78: 215
the preschool period, before any evidence for the emergence of dietary
restraint, maternal feeding practices that restrict children's access
to palatable foods can promote children's overeating. The use of restrictive
feeding practices may occur in middle-class families in response to
parental concerns about children's risk for overweight, which is seen
as a threat to children's healthy development. However, rather than
promoting moderation, these feeding practices can promote disregulated
overeating in children."
Shunk J and Birch L. Girls at Risk for Overweight at Age 5 Are at Risk
for Dietary Restraint, Disinhibited Overeating, Weight Concerns, and
Greater Weight Gain from 5 to 9 Years. Journal of the American Dietetic
Association 2004; 104: 1124
So, the reason our
kids are becoming more overweight isn't because they are eating unhealthy
foods or are not sufficiently active – it's because their natural
regulatory eating signals have been disrupted by the overwhelming emphasis
on losing weight and eating healthy foods.
What you should do to help your child reach and maintain a healthy weight
To ensure your children
grow in a healthy way you must feed them reliably and without restrictions.
If you do this, food will become less of a preoccupation and your children
will eat according to their natural regulatory eating signals.
children or adults who have lost touch with their ability to know when
they are full, it is both a huge relief and very scary for them when
I recommend that we eliminate the rules defining too much food. Most
are sure that they will eat the entire house and more without these
rules. In reality, many do eat excessive amounts for a short while ---
stocking up as their psyches wait nervously for the next restrictive
diet to be imposed. But if such individuals can maintain their courage
and continue to fill up with a reasonable selection of wholesome foods,
eventually their subconscious minds register what is happening; they
are free to eat according to their own internal hunger. At this point,
something almost magical happens (or so it seems to those who have come
to see themselves as insatiable). Suddenly, because they no longer need
to eat in anticipation of the time when they will be cut off, they no
longer need to eat it all right now. They begin to notice when they
are full. They begin to trust that they can save some for later or can
share their food, knowing they can get more if they choose."
Kater, Kathy. Real Kids Come In All Sizes. New York : Broadway Books,
In other words,
children must be 100% confident they'll be fed when they're good and
hungry, foods they like, and enough food.
How can you produce
this confidence? --- by putting structure to snacks and meals your child
can count on and not letting even the intent to restrict food creep
into your feeding. For example, you should:
Serve defined meals
and snack at intervals that ensures your child doesn't become too hungry
(2 to 3 hours for a younger child, 3 to 5 hours for an older child,
but probably never longer than 6 hours). However, don't let your child
graze throughout the day. Food should only be eaten at defined snacks
Serve enough food at each meal and snack so there's always some left
over such that your child sees abundance rather than limitations (e.g.,
cookies left on the plate served for a snack, mashed potatoes left over
in the serving bowl).
Be careful not to let the subtle forms of food restriction occur (pushing
"healthy" foods, labeling foods as "good" or "bad,"
limiting portions, using low-calorie foods, hiding certain foods, deliberately
running out of a child's favorite food, questioning food choices --
"are you sure you want that?")
As far as what to serve, I'd recommend you relax and about food selection
and, instead, just follow these five simple eating guidelines:
Serve a wide range of foods to provide plenty of opportunity to try
Select more real food. Serve foods your grandmother would have recognized
as food rather than the manufactured foods which are so prevalent.
Choose less fried food. For example, it's probably not a great idea
to go out for fast food several nights a week, but that doesn't mean
you should never go. There is nothing inherently wrong with fast food
as long as everyone is listening to their body's natural regulatory
Consume less calories in liquid form. This means that milk or water
should be the primary beverage served at snack- or meal-time. Liquid
calories (e.g., juice for breakfast) should be less than 10% of your
child's total calorie intake.
Try to serve family meals which include a protein, starch, vegetable
(or fruit, or both), bread, and milk.
about physical activity
I said above that
physical activity does not affect weight. That's true, but that doesn't
mean it's not important. In fact, research consistently shows that physical
activity is probably more important to a child's health than their weight
Therefore, you should be strongly encouraging your child to be more
physically active --- but for reasons of fun and overall health, not
as a method for losing or maintaining weight.
Exercise shouldn't be punishment for gaining weight. Instead, your child
should view exercise as activities they absolutely love to do. Your
job as a parent is to help them discover those activities.
We believe martial arts is one of the activities your child may love.
Sure, we focus on skill development, discipline and confidence –
but most of all we emphasize fun.
Many children begin classes with us for one set of reasons, but they
continue because they are having such a blast --- and increased physical
activity with all its health benefits is the natural result.
To learn more about martial arts and if it's possibly a physical activity
your child loves, please contact us. Just call (239) 369-PHAM (7426)
and we'll be happy to discuss this further.
Or, better yet, let your child directly experience the fun they can
have in a martial arts class by taking advantage of our valuable "One
Month FREE VIP Course. Just click on the link in our website's left
Pham's Tae Kwon Do Academy Today!