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Childhood Obesity Begins in Infancy

Updated on December 29, 2022
Pamela99 profile image

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.


Obesity Usually Begins With Toddlers

Childhood obesity, which is defined as a child with extra body fat, has more than tripled over the past 30 years beginning in infancy according to the CDC; the CDC states 1 in 5 children between ages 6 and 19 are officially obese.

Childhood obesity is the biggest pediatric problem in the USA, as even 18.4 percent of children from 2 and 5 years old are obese. Children who have obese parents are 75% more likely to become obese.

A South Carolina woman lost custody of her 14 year old son after being charged with child neglect when the boy’s weight reached 555 pounds, and this has happened in other states as well. Parents are ultimately responsible for the health and welfare of their children.

Parents need education about the dangers for their children regarding proper nutrition and exercise; and, the quality of the many school lunches still need improvement. They are more often based on budget than on quality nutrition. There has been a trend of removing soft drink dispensers out of schools, which is a good first step.

The reason children are becoming obese is the same reason adults do, they take in more calories than they burn which results in a caloric imbalance. Childhood obesity has immediate and long-term consequences. These children have a greater risk of social and psychological problems.

Additionally, obese children often carry that problem into adulthood, which makes them more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, a higher risk for all cardiovascular diseases, a higher blood pressure, several types of cancer and osteoarthritis.

Consequences of Childhood Obesity

States vary as to childhood obesity rates. For instance, the children in Utah have the lowest rate at 19.2 percent, and Tennessee is the highest at 37.7 percent.

Childhood obesity has immediate and long-term consequences. These children have a greater risk of bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, plus social and psychological problems.

Additionally, obese children often carry that problem into adulthood, which make them more likely to develop the following health problems:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Risk for all cardiovascular diseases, including strokes
  • High blood pressure
  • Several types of cancer
  • Osteoarthritis and other joint problems

Parental Teaching
Parental Teaching | Source

Stand and Learn

Dr. James A. Levine, is an Mayo Clinic obesity expert and tried a student classroom with standing desks in 2006. It is complete with “standing” desks and a whole host of sophisticated learning technologies. They have found the children were eager to learn the new way, and they burned more calories while standing.

They accomplished this task by assembling various businesses to furnish desks to the new school. The Rochester Athletic Club built an indoor village to house the school.

Apple provided iBook wireless notebook computers and iPods that played videos with America on the move, which is a community based advocacy organization that is raising awareness of the concept. Numerous teachers applied for an opportunity to work with this new concept. The children's activity is monitored by the Mayo Clinic team by special telemetry.

Each child wore a PAD on his or her leg, which measured the time spent standing and walking. Mayo has since started a number of research projects on Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), which is the production of heat, especially by physiological processes, starting with 3-4 year-olds. Other schools have adopted new style classrooms since this initial project.

NEAT is actually the calories burned when not exercising, which includes things like walking from the car to the school, doing simple chores or maybe standing while doing an art project.

Classroom Changes

The Beginning of Obesity

When does obesity in children really begin? Even the health of a two year old is closely tied to how much he eats, along with his activity level. The American Heart Association (AHA) has established guidelines developed for children.

The AHA has found that the intake of saturated fats has improved, but obesity has continued to be a problem. Apparently the children are still too inactive while eating more calories than required, but perhaps the food is a bit healthier. The eating habits of a child begin when they are toddlers.

The general dietary guidelines of the AHA for infants and young children stress their diet should primarily rely on:

  • Fruits and vegetable
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat and non-dairy products
  • Beans
  • Fish
  • Lean meat

The things to avoid include: saturated and trans-fats, cholesterol, added sugar and salt. They also recommend that the children are active, which is usually typical of toddlers anyway.

Toddlers Source
Toddlers Source

Milk Substitute and Snacks

Children need a balanced diet, which means eating a proper amount and variety of nutritious foods. This also means eating a combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Proteins build muscles,carbohydrates provide the body with energy and fats provide long-lasting energy.

So, how can we follow the guidelines of the American Heart Association with regard to milk? The AHA suggests 2% milk. Once a child is weaned, they still need a lot of calcium and vitamin D. Enfamil and some other formulas are now made with soy milk.

Many children have a milk intolerance, as lactose intolerance is much more common now, so soy, almond or coconut milk is an alternative. If soy milk is the only type of milk your child has ever drank, they will not miss cow’s milk. However, soy milk is low in fat, and it isn’t recommended for your child's fat intake as it is limited until they are 2 or 3 years old. Goat's milk is another possibility, however, it lacks iron, folate and Vitamin B12 unless it is fortified, so read your labels.

Other foods that have a good amount of calcium include yogurt, fortified orange juice, bread (Kid’s Iron Bread) and American cheese. They receive up to 350 mg of calcium per slice of bread. If your child has a true allergy to cow’s milk they are likely to have the same problem with goat’s milk. Fortified cereals may add a lot of nutrients to your child’s diets.

As allergies are also more common, science recommends that you rotate your child’s food so they do not eat the same thing too many days in a row. According to some research, eating something every fourth day will help prevent allergies.

Snacks are another problem as children love candy, cookies and ice cream, just to name a few. The first obvious choice would be to try to use fruit. Children often like finger foods, so grapes, berries, raisins, other dried fruit, and fruit that is cut up into bite size pieces may be more acceptable to your toddler.

Children like granola type bars, and they are available in lower fat concentrates now. Common sense and moderation should rule the choices.


As Children Age

Once your child reaches the age where they are playing with other children in the neighborhood you might talk to the parents of a playmate to let them know you don’t want your child to have certain foods.

Hopefully by that time the child will like the diet at home and be less inclined to try foods they are not familiar with.


In summary, we need to look at new options to help prevent childhood obesity. Begin using healthy food choices in infancy. It is not always easy, but the goal is to raise a healthy, happy child free of disease if possible. Keeping your child active is so important. Limit TV and computer time.

If you remember that childhood obesity begins in infancy it will help you as a parent to curb the problem before it starts.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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