Most of us are immediately attracted to pinch the pudgy cheeks of delicious toddlers. The problem seems to be that currently there are too many “very pudgy” toddlers walking the streets of an average US city. And moms do not seem to be able to discern the difference between healthy pinchable cheeks and a developing and serious toddler weight issue. Before I get to this recent study, let me offer some self reflection. I come from a family that has struggled with weight for many generations. I lost over 50 pounds as a teenager. When I had my first child, I was very aware of her growth pattern. She was always in the 80th to 90th percentile and would become “ a square,” before she would lean out with her next growth spurt. I made sure that her pediatrician knew my family history, and we would carefully discuss her growth pattern at each office visit. I was somewhat vigilant and aware of her eating patterns, and would always be strategizing ways to make sure she did not eat out of boredom. I also made sure that she was always moving and playing, and that the foods she was eating were coming mostly from the six food groups (fruits, vegetables, fat free dairy, lean and often non-meat proteins, healthy grains, healthy oils) and not the seventh food group which I call “fake foods.”
McDonalds was a once a month play date (usually orchestrated by other moms), that included outdoor play time before and after the chicken nuggets OR fries – she was never allowed both in the same meal. By the time my daughter was five, she was in sports – Little League baseball, soccer and two years later she moved to tennis. Eating to support her fitness was a concept I introduced early on, making sure she understood how food could impact her athletic performance. She learned a very important nutrition lesson - that she would feel as good as the food she put in her body – and play better when her diet was healthy and less processed. We defied the family weight tendency and along the way, the entire family ate healthfully and included fitness, organically, in the daily schedule.
A recent study suggests that parents are not recognizing the warning signs of impending obesity in their toddlers. The study found that mothers of underweight toddlers had a clear grasp of their toddlers weight, as it related to appearance, but a majority of the mothers of the overweight toddlers were “satisfied with the size of their child.” The findings concerned researchers and pediatricians, because the perception of weight colors how a parent feeds their child. If a mother thinks her rather overweight toddler is “normal,” she will probably overfeed the child. This is of particular importance in the lower socio-economic groups who consider plumpness a sign of successful parenting, which can inspire large portions and frequent feedings of a growing child. Let’s also remember that if you're comparing a normal weight child to the many overweight children now populating the community, the normal weight child may appear too thin by comparison. In the study, a similar number of mothers of below weight toddlers and normal weight toddlers wanted their kids to be bigger; 4% of the moms of the overweight toddlers also wanted their children to eat more and grow more.