Cleaveland: Preventing childhood obesity

Cleaveland: Preventing childhood obesity

August 26th, 2010 in Health

Dr.Clif Cleaveland


A spreading epidemic of obesity threatens the well-being of countless American children. Their lives will be shortened by obesity-associated diabetes, high blood pressure, circulatory disease, sleep apnea and arthritis. Budgets of families and governments will be overwhelmed by expenses related to obesity. Dreams will be foreclosed.

Prevention of childhood obesity must begin and be sustained within the home. Even before birth, expectant mothers must carefully monitor their weight. Recent studies suggest that excessive, prenatal weight gain substantially increases the odds that the child resulting from that pregnancy will battle obesity.

An important study in the August issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition evaluates dietary patterns in early childhood. Children, ages three to four who consumed diets that were low in fried food and rich in dark green and deep yellow vegetables were less likely to be overweight at age eight. This dietary regimen led to healthier bones at age eight.

Preferred diets included spinach, broccoli, romaine, carrots, tomatoes, squash, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. Children who are obese at age three to five are four times more likely to become obese adults. Thus, the die for adult obesity may be cast in pre-school.

I have reviewed three insightful books, each of which would make a meaningful gift at a baby shower. Mothers, fathers and grandparents will learn from these narratives which are written from the perspective of loving concern.

"Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming, Birth Through Adolescence" by Ellyn Satter (Kelcy Press 2005) defines a philosophy that fits nutrition into broader, family relations. The author writes from the perspective of a nutritionist and family therapist.

At almost 500 pages this book is daunting, but its comprehensive approach to raising healthy children is well worth the effort of a thoughtful reading. The author sums up her fundamental message in two words: "have meals."

Children learn healthy eating habits in the regularly convened community of family around the dinner table. Individual sections address challenges of the different seasons of childhood. A useful bibliography concludes the volume.

Pediatrician Miriam Vos offers "The No-Diet Obesity Solution for Kids" (AGA Institute Press 2009). Dr. Vos emphasizes a comprehensive approach to a child's health. Her discussion of normal growth and of obesity is clear and free of jargon and guilt-inducing terminology. Healthy nutrition begins at birth and involves the entire family. This book offers practical tips for shopping for food and a sampler of recipes at the conclusion of its 250 pages.

"Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right: The Food Solution That Lets Kids be Kids," by Joanna Dolgoff (Rodale 2010) is the glitzier of the three with colorful cartoons and appealing photographs of its many recipes. Once again, a child's success at sustaining healthy nutrition depends upon the everyday actions of the family.

Dr. Dolgoff presents a handy scheme for assessing foods based on traffic lights. Avoid high-fat "red-light" foods. Be mindful of "yellow-light" foods that contain oils. Build diets around "green-light" foods that are filling, nutritious and low in saturated fats. The advice on snacks is especially useful. A food data-base concludes this 250 page book. This is a very useful approach to quick appraisal of the nutritional content of a variety of foods. Children could buy into this simple, graphic approach to selecting healthier foods.

Each book is the equivalent of an engaging conversation with a writer experienced in childhood nutrition who cares profoundly about the health of our children and grandchildren. I recommend all three.

Contact Clif Cleaveland at