SALT LAKE CITY — If you want your children to be healthy, start healthy habits when they are young — even at birth — instead of waiting until they are overweight and then trying to fix it.
That's the experts' advice after two recent European studies showed early intervention can help overweight children grow up to be slim and healthy.
Salt Lake pediatrician Dr. Nicole Mihalopoulos works with overweight teenagers in her Salt Lake clinic. She said it's hard to intervene in the teen years.
"Mostly because kids are exploring who they are, who they want to be, what defines them," she said. "They also have that little bit of rebellion because they are trying to be independent of their parents."
- From The Netherlands -- overweight 3- to 5-year-olds saw continued benefits from a weight-loss intervention at least several months after it ended.
- From Sweden -- overweight and obese children under 10 were much more likely to have slower weight gain than were adolescents getting similar behavioral treatments.
She said it is easier to teach healthy habits to younger children.
"Like eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, the things that may not be the tastiest, but they don't know any different if you don't give them the alternative," she said.
Dr. Mihalopoulos said early obesity intervention must start at birth with breastfeeding, or at least not over-feeding with formula. She said it's essential keep practicing healthy habits as the child grows.
If activities are started early, and even begin with the child's idea, the child is more likely to follow through, she said.
"We don't want our kids to be so obese by the time that they graduate high school that they have early heart disease and diabetes," she said.
She also cautioned parents not to override a child's hunger cues by pushing more food on him or her.