Tips to teach children healthy eating habits

- With close to a quarter of American preschoolers now overweight or obese,  a new study in the journal "Pediatrics" shows teaching the pre-K crowd self-control training did nothing to help curb obesity.

And pediatrician Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Director of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Strong4Life Wellness program wonders if intervening at age 4 is too late.

"I think 4-year olds probably aren't that great at self-regulation in general," Dr. Walsh says. "But I think one of the things it tells us is we have to go earlier. Particularly in the area of hunger and weight."

Walsh says research shows newborns instinctively learn to follow their natural hunger and fullness cues.   

But, too often, she says, well-meaning parents, worried babies aren't eating enough, tend to try to  override those natural cues.

"Trying to get them to take one more ounce of that bottle, or one more bite of that sandwich," Walsh says. "We start doing this pretty early on.  And, pretty soon, kids might not understand when they're hungry and when they're full."

To help parents, Strong4Life.com has revamped its website, allowing parent to click on their child's age, and find specific feeding advice, from newborns on up.

Walsh says the takeaway for parents is pretty simple.

"I think what's really important is for you to start trusting yourself and trusting your kids," Walsh says. "So, when you're kids are hungry, feed them, and when they're full, they can stop."

"I actually tell families, I think we feed out kids in the healthiest manner when we put the food  on the high chair tray and leave them. We have no idea how much they eat. They're covered in it, it's on the floor. It's all a big mess."

In other words, you provide the healthy food, then let kids control what happens next.

"And that's really what it is: how do we get kids to remember, 'Now I'm hungry,' and 'Now, I'm full," eating just to sustain themselves and not for other reasons," Dr. Wash says.

For feeding tips for children of all ages, visit www.strong4life.com.

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