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Archive for April, 2010


Recent studies indicate that up to 77% of freshman college students gain an average of 4-8# during their first year of college.  This is much less than the reputed “15#” that many new college students fear, yet the weight impact appears to be fairly global among males and females, according to a 2009 study published in Preventive Medicine. 

How prepared is your high school senior for the college food experience?  Heading off to college is a life-altering experience and is filled with new found freedoms.  No curfew, no parental forces to check in with, and no limits on what and how much one can eat and drink.  Food freedom is a welcomed relief for some freshmen, and many first year college students thrive with this independence.  However, some rising freshmen worry about this freedom, fearing weight gain, and clueless with the prospect of balancing food independence and  feeding themselves well. 

What feeding skills do emerging college students need? 

  • Knowledge of the types of food that promote health
  • Recognition of  fullness and satisfaction with eating, both physically and emotionally
  • Knowledge of portion sizes 
  • Ability to balance and select food groups so that key nutrients are present in the diet
  • Setting a meal and snack schedule so that extremes in hunger and fullness are avoided, and nutrient needs are met
  • Food preparation skills
  • Food safety basics

Your teen may not have these skills.  Why?  Nutrition education isn’t a stronghold in the educational system of our country yet.  Simply stated, children and teens aren’t receiving consistent messaging and knowledge about nutrition. Some of what they do know is gleaned from magazines, the media, and their peers, which may not be reliable resources.  Also, parents are often “in charge” of meal selection and preparation, leaving teens inexperienced in this area.  Many parents still “plate” their teenager’s meals; this controlled approach can lead to larger portions when teens become truly independent eaters in college.  Lastly, college schedules may be chaotic and unpredictable, causing erratic eating patterns.  All these factors can combine to create a food firestorm, encouraging disorganized patterns of hunger and fullness, inappropriate food choices, large portion sizes, excess caloric intake, and a cycle of dieting that may be ineffective.  The result?  Changes in weight — oftentimes in an undesirable direction.

Eating and self-feeding skills build over a child’s lifespan, and ideally, your child or teen has had a wonderful role model to reference–YOU!  If your teen does not appear to be prepared to navigate the food scene in college, help him or her become food-savvy, independent, healthy eaters, and prepared for food freedom.

  • consult with a registered dietitian (RD)–in person, online, or in the blogosphere–for basic nutrition education and cooking skill development
  • invest in or check out credible nutrition resources from the library–those written by RD’s are particularly helpful
  • seek out other reliable nutrition websites, such as the American Dietetic Association, and others on my blogroll
  • join your teen for a basic cooking class, or conduct one in your home–check out your local grocer or cooking school
  • allow your teen freedom to cook and experiment in the kitchen
  • teach your teen how to shop for food, how to read a nutrition label, and how to dine out in restaurants

Parents often assume that teens who are heading to college instinctively know this stuff…but they don’t!  Unless you have invested the time in preparing your child for independent eating at college (which ideally has been occuring throughout childhood), they may not have the skills required to maintain a stable weight and a healthy body.  The resulting situation can be upsetting for everyone.  Help your child feel confident and ready for the food freedom and independent eating that college undoubtedly provides.  Nutrition “Know-How” can be a wonderful graduation gift for your teen that can last a lifetime!

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“Don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it.”

How many times have parents heard this classic line?  Friends, grandparents, teachers, and pediatricians use this solution for parents who are concerned with a multitude of childhood behaviors. 

  • My child is wetting the bed!  Oh, she’ll grow out of it. 
  • My child won’t eat vegetables.  Don’t worry, my child did the same…and he grew out of it!

When it comes to infant obesity, this advice may not be an effective or helpful response.  A recent study in The Journal of Pediatrics looked at a sample of infants, aged 6 months, and identified a 16% rate of obesity among them.   Babies who were obese at 6 months, were still likely to be obese at 24 months.  And so our national childhood obestity problem begins.

What causes obesity in infancy?  Although it is complicated and not fully understood, the following are potential parenting behaviors that may encourage the path toward infant obesity:

Inappropriate feeding practices:  The methods and practices in which we feed babies may contribute to obesity, such as:  adding cereal to the baby bottle to encourage a baby to sleep through the night; improper mixing of formula which may result in a concentrated calorie source; forcing an infant to “finish the bottle”; and feeding a baby “all day long” are just some of the red flags that a baby may be fed inappropriately.

Missing infant cues:  Babies let their parents know when they are full–they turn their heads away, fall asleep, or pull off the breast or bottle.  Likewise, they let their hunger be heard…by crying!  Confusing these signals or worse, ignoring them, can result in overfeeding.  Paying attention and accurately reading infant cues will help parents feed their baby enough, but not too much.

Confusing infant cues:  A crying baby doesn’t always mean a hungry baby.  Parents may be confused by their baby’s signals, misreading boredom, a wet diaper, or tiredness, for hunger.  Interpreting crying and/or discomfort as a sign of hunger can lead to overfeeding a baby.

Starting solids too early:  Many new parents feel the pressure from outside influences to introduce solids early.  Or perhaps they are under-informed about how and when to begin solid food.  The timing for solid food introduction to infants is generally between 4 and 6 months.  Following a guideline for starting solids can help parents stay on track with their baby’s nutritional needs and developmental progression.  Starting too early can pose the risk of overfeeding, and overfeeding can lead to obesity.

Lack of nutrition knowledge:  Many parents lack the information and confidence to feed their baby, and may not have the resources to seek out this information.  This lack of knowledge may lead to the presentation of unhealthy foods, an inadequate balance of the important food groups in the diet, and feeding practices that encourage excess weight gain. 

Feeding your baby, and doing it well, sets the foundation for the overall health of your baby.   In order to have a positive impact on childhood obesity, parents need to pay attention to food selection, timing, and the attitudes and actions they use in the high chair.

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Why Weight?

If you have read this 12 part series, you are well aware that there are many things to think about in regards to children and their weight.  Activity level, food selection, hunger response and management, and feeding techniques are just some of the many considerations.   Childhood obesity isn’t simple–it is a layered, multi-faceted condition that involves what you eat, how you eat/feed it, how you feel about your body and self, whether you exercise, and a multitude of environmental influences including school, community, and economic status.  Wouldn’t it be easy to point the finger at one contributor?  Rarely in counseling  am I able to name one single issue as the culprit–there is usually a multitude.  Pinpointing the critical contributors can build awareness, and change.  Childhood obesity is a complex issue– treating it is far more difficult than preventing it.  Yet prevention hinges on knowledge and commitment, so building awareness, especially among parents, is critical.

Why Weight?

Excess weight gain in childhood is no party.  The psychosocial impact begins at a young age and may last a lifetime.  The physical impact may perpetuate the problem, challenging children in their efforts to be active.  The medical toll is well known, from the affiliated conditions of heart disease to diabetes, as well as the exhorbitant cost to our nation.  One thing we know for sure, we cannot wait to address this weight problem in children.

Treatment of childhood obesity is challenging.  It generally requires a lifestyle change that involves the entire family.  Success is dependent on motivation and commitment, and that is a large and variable factor among families.  Children hold little power and generally assume a “follower” position, relying on parents to lead the effort.  Parents make the food shopping decisions, the dining out rules,  and the TV allowances–children’s weight status is a by-product of many of these decisions.  As children grow older, they tend to mimic their family habits, adopting behaviors that may or may not support their health.   A positive parent leader is a key component to a child’s weight management treatment. 

Prevention is the key and it begins in the highchair.  Yes, the early decisions count.  Allowing little Sally a Dum-Dum sucker at the bank drive-through, or Baby Sam a soda in his bottle are the decisions that set the foundation for future tastebuds.  Research shows that feeding habits in the first 2 years of life set the precedence for future eating habits.  In other words, if you want your child to eat healthy and be at a healthy weight, you’ve got to pay attention early on.  Further, recent research suggests that infants as young as 6 months of age are showing signs of obesity.  As the age of 4-6 months is the time to transition to “real food”, this research is compelling and urges parents to pay more attention to what and how they feed their infants in the highchair.

We owe it to our own and our nation’ children to become educated about food and nutrition, be involved in teaching and modeling a healthy lifestyle, be more thoughtful about feeding and role-modeling, be committed to activity, and be committed to prevention, rather than await treatment.  As the parent, the gatekeeper, and the leader–it’s up to YOU.

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