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  • Denise Scott

Fighting the Childhood Obesity Epidemic - Part 2

This is the second of four articles that discuss combating childhood obesity. Today begins with how we can change this trajectory.

First, we need to know how much weight gain is typical for a child.

Realize that the size of a newborn and infant during the first year of life does NOT predict the size of the child or adult they will be. 

An infant’s birthweight: 

  • Doubles by 4-5 months and triples by 12 months. 

  • Birthweight is quadrupled by 2-2 ½ years. 

  • Once a newborn starts gaining weight (after the first 1-2 weeks), they will gain about ½ lb. per week or a pound every 2-3 weeks during the first six months. 

  • From 6-12 months, weight gain is ¼ -⅓  lb. a week. 

  • Babies are actually on a slowing trend once they exit the womb!

Toddlers often do not settle on the growth percentiles they will follow for the rest of childhood until age three. There can be fluctuations until this age. 

From three on they should grow 2-3 inches or 5-7 cm and gain 4-10 pounds (ideally 5-8 lbs) yearly. These parameters will keep them on the same percentile growth curve until puberty. 

Puberty increases muscle mass in males and body fat in females, leading to weight gain and some increase in weight percentiles. 

Pediatricians measure and plot the growth parameters at each well-child visit. Consistency with these visits is essential to detect abnormalities. If there is a concern regarding growth or weight gain, I encourage you to address this with your child’s doctor and not wait until the next well visit if that is months away. 

A young child being weighed and measured at her doctor's office. Growth is tracked at annual health visits to watch for trends.

A child whose weight is rising rapidly but whose height continues to track normally usually is without an endocrine or hormonal problem. However, excessive weight gain increases the risk of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type II diabetes. 

If you think your child may be at risk for type 2 diabetes, please discuss this with your child’s doctor. Blood tests can screen for this. Being proactive is the first step. If your child has prediabetes, losing weight and having more physical activity can delay or prevent T2D. 

Improving eating habits - focusing on eating better, not less - is at the heart of changing the obesity trend. You can start with small steps, which will be discussed in the next two weeks; this week focuses on beverages.

Sugar intake in children, primarily from sugar-sweetened beverages, is the main contributor to excessive sugar intake in kids. Excess sugar intake leads to high triglycerides, weight gain, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease. Children have stopped drinking water as their primary beverage due to the availability of sodas, juices, sports drinks, energy drinks, flavored “dessert” coffees, etc. The sugar content in ONE of these drinks can exceed the recommended amount of added sugar in the diet for a day. One of these sugar-laden drinks daily will add one half to one pound of weight a week! 

A group of children at play drinking water for hydration. Water is the best hydrator during activities.

If you do only one thing for your child, eliminate or significantly reduce all sugar-sweetened beverages. 

These include:

  • soda

  • fruit juices 

  • sports drinks 

  • energy drinks

  • dessert coffees 

  • sweetened teas

  • flavored waters with sugar

Sugary drinks comprise almost half (46%) of added sugar consumption!

Picture of a cup of sugar cubes representing all sugar-sweetened beverages and the major source of sugar consumption.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association have recommended that children and women not consume more than 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams, of added sugar daily. This equals about 100 calories. This amount is easily reached or exceeded in a single 12-ounce can of regular soda, bottled sweetened tea, or a caramelized frappuccino. Sugar-sweetened beverages are the most substantial source of added sugar intake in the American diet. 

Excess sugar is making our kids more vulnerable to numerous future diseases.

Beverage companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars marketing sugary drinks to youth yet have no accountability for the health risks they create. These added sugars have significantly contributed to the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics. 

Why is this important, and why does sugar matter so much?

Excess sugar consumption is a dangerous health risk, contributing not only to obesity and type 2 diabetes but also to:

  1. Heart disease

  2. Fatty liver disease

  3. Poor dental health 

  4. Mental health issues

  5. Inflammation 

  6. Poor Energy 

  7. Acne 

  8. Joint pain 

  9. Cancer 

To summarize - there are NO health benefits from added sugar. 

The easiest way to reduce sugar intake? Evaluate what you and your child drink. 

This simple measure can go a long way in reducing your child’s future health risks.

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