WASHINGTON – A food pyramid just for the under-2 set? Contrary to popular belief, children don’t usually outgrow their baby fat – and a new report urges steps to help prevent babies, toddlers and preschoolers from getting too pudgy too soon.
That’s a growing problem: Already, one in five preschoolers – 2- to 5-year-olds – is overweight or obese.
Topping the list of proposed changes: better guidelines to help parents and caregivers know just how much toddlers should eat as they move from baby food to bigger-kid fare.
Thursday’s recommendations, from the Institute of Medicine, aren’t about putting the very young on diets. But those early pounds can lead to lasting bad effects on their health as children grow, says the report.
“It’s a huge opportunity to instill good habits at a time when you don’t have to change old ones,” said Leann Birch, director of Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Childhood Obesity Research, who chaired the IOM panel.
Overall, national guidelines are aimed at ages 2 and older – though surveys show even very young children eat too few of the fruits and vegetables they need. So the institute called on the government to create consumer-friendly dietary guidelines for birth to age 2.
That will be part of the discussion during the next dietary guidelines update in 2015, said Robert Post, deputy director of the Agriculture Department’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, which oversees that process. But developing guidelines for these younger children is complex because their nutrition needs are based in part on developmental stage, he cautioned.
Of course, parents have the biggest influence over whether healthy eating and being active become a child’s norm.
But the report makes the case that children’s habits are influenced by far more than their parents – and thus it’s time to expand obesity prevention to more of the other places youngsters spend time. For example, nearly three-fourths of children ages 2 to 5 spend at least part of their day in some form of child care.