A new study released this week by The New England Journal of Medicine, which tracked children's weight fluctuations over time, found that a child's weight in kindergarten was a strong predictor of his or her weight by eighth grade.
Of the 7,738 children studied, roughly three-quarters of those who become obese between the ages of 5 and 14 had been above the 70th percentile for body-mass index when entering kindergarten. With each passing year, the chances that a child would break away from their current weight trajectory decreased—meaning children whose weight was in a normal range stayed that way, while those who were heavy remained so. These findings suggest that a parent's efforts in his or her child's early years to encourage healthy food choices and instill a fitness-focused mentality can help set a child up for a lifetime of successful weight management.
But will harping on "eating right" and "staying active" at such a young age backfire and make future generations even more body image-obsessed than they currently are? Studies show that even young children are aware of body image and feel tremendous pressure to live up to images portrayed by the media. This creates a challenge for parents to strike a balance between advocating for good health and encouraging a positive self-image, despite outside appearances. To downplay body image concerns while still inspiring a healthy lifestyle, try the following:
- Emphasize nutrition rather than weight.
- Describe food as energy for the body.
- Encourage the formation of exercise habits now, which research shows are likely to continue into adulthood.
- Get active together. Sign-up for our "12 Weeks to a Healthier Family" newsletter to get started.
Image: Mother and daughter eating fresh vegetables via Shutterstock.