Local pediatrician and obesity specialist Dr. Joanna Dolgoff explains how parents can set healthy limits on foods for their kids and when to seek help for your child's diet.
As a pediatrician, expert on childhood obesity, and mother of two young children, Joanna Dolgoff, MD, knows from personal experience that instilling healthy eating kids is no easy task. "My son is 9 and my daughter is 7. They've grown up seeing an active lifestyle and they understand healthy nutrition, but there have been many fights along the road," she says.
Here, Dr. Dolgoff offers tips on how to set healthy limits for your kids and how to seek the right help when putting your child on a diet.
How do you set limits on your child’s diet without being too restrictive?
As parent, it’s important to set standards and live by them. When my son was 3 or 4, he went to the JCC for preschool and there was a café there. Every day we would go to the café after school and my friends would give their kids chocolate—every day. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want him eating chocolate every day. I had a choice: I could give in, I could stop going to the café and deprive him of that social interaction, or I could go and not let him eat chocolate. I decided “everything in moderation.” I sat him down and said “Chocolate is okay sometimes, but not every day. One day a week you can have chocolate, and the other days you can have a healthy snack, like yogurt or a granola bar." Well, my 4-year-old threw himself on the floor, day after day, asking “Why can they eat it, why can’t I have the chocolate?” I explained that different mommies have different rules, and you’re stuck with me. I understand why so many parents do give in. When your child is on the floor kicking and screaming, it’s very tempting to do anything to get them to stop. Teaching life lessons are difficult. But after a couple weeks he got the hang of it. He would say, “Is today a chocolate day or a healthy day?” Set your standards and stick to them.
When should parents seek help when it comes to their child’s weight?
When the child’s BMI (body mass index) is above the 85th percentile, that’s when parents should start looking at options to help. You don’t want to wait until your child is obese or morbidly obese. As soon as you think there might be a problem, there probably already is. Talk to your doctor and get help. If you put them on a diet program, make sure it’s run by doctors and dieticians. Kids have different caloric and nutritional needs at all different stages. You don’t want to sign your kid up for Weight Watchers, even teens, because they need different nutritional needs while they’re still developing. It’s very important you’re working with a physician who understands those needs.
When parents control their child’s diet, they tend to be overly restrictive. Kids do need a certain amount of calories to support normal development, and boys are different than girls. You want to work with someone who knows what they’re doing to help support healthy weight loss.
Joanna Dolgoff, M.D., is a pediatrician, child obesity specialist, official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the author of “Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right” (Rodale, 2010). Dr. Dolgoff has offices in Manhattan, Queens, and throughout Long Island. She lives in Roslyn with her husband and two children, ages 7 and 9.
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