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Preventing childhood obesity

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






The skinny on fat

Childhood obesity is on the rise. The Office of the Surgeon General says that the number of overweight teens has nearly tripled in the past 2 decades. And that extra weight comes with a lot of baggage, like an increase in Type 2 diabetes in children, high blood pressure, and even some forms of cancer. Is there anything you can do?

Overweight Girl

Turns out that you really are what you eat, according to a study slated to be published in the August issue of The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM). In case JCEM doesn't usually grace your coffee table, we've got the skinny for you right here.

Breast is still best

Whatever your feelings on breastfeeding, it's still a great start for your baby's life -- and lifelong health. Kids who are breastfed longer have a lower fat mass that can't be explained by differences in family background or the child's height.

In other words, those early days really do make a difference later on. Not much comfort when you're in the middle of a seven-hour nursing marathon, perhaps, but stick with it, and your kids will ultimately reap the rewards. Think of it as yet another sacrifice you make for them that they will fail to appreciate.

Weaning wisely

A key component of this study, and what sets it apart from past research, is that the researchers looked closely at the influence of the weaning diet on childhood weight.

"We found that, independent of the duration of breastfeeding, children with higher quality weaning diets including fruits, vegetables, and home-prepared foods had a greater lean mass at four years of age," said Dr. Siân Robinson, PhD, of the MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre, University of Southampton in the United Kingdom and lead author of the study.

Making smart choices

So, if you aren't nursing, are your kids doomed to a life of overweight? Of course not. In fact, in this study, "weaning" is defined as "the period of transition in infancy between a diet based on milk feeding to one based on solid foods." In other words, as you introduce your child to solids, you have a real opportunity to set the tone for his lifelong health.

Researchers looked at the diets of 536 children at six and 12 months of age. Diet was assessed using a food frequency questionnaire that was administered by trained research nurses to record the average frequency of consumption of specific foods. The age at which solid foods were introduced into the infant's diet was also recorded.Sure, some of this sounds like common sense. Feed your kids healthful foods and they'll be healthier. Big surprise. But stop and think about the long-term effects of a balanced diet. Just cooking dinner at home rather than picking up takeout can make a real difference in your child's life -- today and tomorrow.

Limit sweets and fast food

While your kids are still small (read: before they can talk back), get in the habit of offering fruits and vegetables at snacktime -- instead of cookies and cupcakes. Aim to cook dinner most nights, and save the fast food for special occasions.

Don't forget to consider portion sizes, too -- both at home and when you eat out. As tempting as it is to push kids to join the clean plate club, it's better to let their stomachs decide when they're full.Little changes can make a big difference over time. Get your kids off to a good start with a balanced diet, and start them on the path to great health.

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