We all love to fuss and fawn over chubby toddlers, with ruddy cheeks and soft buttery hands. And they make for adorable family photos too. But what parents need to understand is that, this chubbiness might not be healthy, especially if your little one doesn’t lose his baby fat as he grows up. In India, a chubby child is often considered to be healthy, owing to many socio-economic and cultural reasons. However, failing to acknowledge that your toddler is overweight, when he actually is, might create a major problem in the future. Excessive weight can pave the way for childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes, if not checked. So, here’s what you can do.

How to determine if your child is overweight?

For this, you might find yourself peering at a growth chart plot, usually used by paediatricians, to mark the progress of your toddler’s height and weight against his age. After measuring your child’s height, weight, and noting the age, the doctor will calculate his BMI (Body Mass Index). He will then plot it on the growth chart and compare it to the average plot of other children, based on the same parameters. This is called the BMI percentile. This will give the doctor a fair idea about where your child stands in comparison to other children. For example, if your child is at 80th percentile, it means that he has a BMI that is higher than 80% of other kids of the same age. However, a single visit to the doctor is not enough to conclude if your child needs to lose weight or not. If above 85 percentile is recorded in 2 or more visits, the doctor might consider it as a definite sign and recommend ways for your child to lose weight.

Tips to follow to manage your child’s weight

Once you get to know that your child is overweight, it is important to address it in a sensible and practical manner, without putting your child through rigorous diets or unnecessary restrictions, which might do more harm than good. Here are some smart ways to encourage weight loss in toddlers:

  1. Talk to your child about how excess weight can harm him. Set regular meal timings, try to offer small and frequent meals instead of large ones, and make mealtimes relaxed.
  2. Understand what motivates your child to eat more and stop offering junk foods as a reward for activities accomplished. Do away with distractions like TVs during mealtimes.
  3. Try to explain the benefits of natural foods to your child and why each food group is important. This will discourage him from binging on fats or carbohydrates only.
  4. Also, bear in mind that toddlers learn by imitating, and hence, it is important for you as a parent, to make healthy choices when it comes to food. For example, if you wish your child to eat more fruits, you need to be seen eating more fruits as well.
  5. It is more important to focus on the quality of food rather than the quantity. Gradually reduce portion sizes of foods your child loves but you know are unhealthy, and ensure that healthy snacks like vegetables, fruits, yoghurt and fresh juices etc. are in visible range of the child.
  6. Try to avoid shopping for unhealthy foods and stocking them up at home to prevent your child from reaching out for them. Read nutrition labels carefully before you pick a product at a supermarket.
  7. Sometimes, just swapping a high-calorie food with a low-calorie food can help tweak your child’s diet plan without too much compromise. For example, switch your child’s full fat milk (4-5% fat) which is recommended until the age of 2 years, to low-fat milk (1-2% fat), which will reduce the number of calories automatically. Yet, it will not deprive him of any other valuable nutrients.
  8. Giving fresh fruit pieces instead of candy or sugary desserts is another way to help your kid get healthy. Provide fresh homemade juices without sugar, instead of the packaged highly sugared ones.
  9. In summer, encourage them to drink plain water instead of juices to quench thirst after playing. Coconut water, low-fat lassi without sugar, and water infused with fruits or herbs are good ideas too.
  10. Slowly eliminate unhealthy cooking methods like deep-frying or using high temperatures. Switch to boiling, baking, grilling and roasting.
  11. Use creative ideas to teach children about food groups and attract them with fruits and vegetables in different shapes, sizes and colours.
  12. Ask kids to help you in the kitchen and use this opportunity to expose them to different foods and cooking methods.
  13. Stay away from impulse shopping, especially when hungry, as research shows that we tend to shop excessively and carelessly when in a state of hunger or emotional stress.
  14. Encourage your toddler to get more physically active, or participate in sports, which will help burn off the excess calories. Positive reinforcements like these can help your overweight toddler lose weight.
  15. Never label a child as fat, dull, lazy, or use harsh measures like food restrictions and fad diet plans, as these can impact the child psychologically and even lead to food aversions, pickiness, and low self-esteem.

Remember that toddlers are at that impressionable age when how and what you teach stays with them for life. So, gradually inculcate healthy eating habits, explain the benefits of natural foods and harms caused by junk foods, and motivate them to lead an active life. A balanced diet, moderate portions, timely meals, and regular exercises can help your child lose weight without compromising on nutritional status or self-confidence.