A recent study in the Journal of the Academy of Pediatrics has found that being overweight can cause girls to hit puberty earlier than normal.
And while nobody wants to see their kids grow up too fast, there are actually serious health concerns related to starting puberty too early.
TODAY nutrionist Joy Bauer has some simple suggestions for what parents they can do to make sure their children don't become overweight or help them lose the weight if they already are.
1. Be a healthy role model
Monkey see, monkey do. As your children grow they observe and copy everything you do —eating habits included.
2. Make healthy eating fun
Play games, create sticker charts, conduct taste tests, and invite your kids into the kitchen to cook. Anything goes — just connect healthy eating/exercise with fun.
3. Use my “90/10 food strategy”
Create a positive attitude about food by emphasizing healthy choices and limiting (not eliminating) the not-so-healthy cakes, cookies, and candy. That means 90 percent Healthy and 10 percent Fun.
4. Encourage a smart breakfast
Breakfast helps serve as an appetite regulator throughout the rest of the day. Studies also show that kids who eat breakfast have better attention and focus in the morning.
5. Switch to nonfat and low-fat dairy
Kids need calcium, but not the fat and calories from whole milk dairy. After your child turns two, switch to skim milk, 1 percent reduced-fat milk, part skim string cheese, fat-free/low-fat sliced cheese and yogurt.
6. Load them up with fiber
Encourage your kids to load up on fiber-rich foods, including vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils and whole grains. Insoluble fiber takes a longer time to chew and provides volume to food without adding a lot of calories. Soluble fiber helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, and can help ward off hunger and cravings.
7. Moderate starch
Be mindful and moderate with the amount of starchy carbohydrate you serve your kids at each meal. Carb-heavy meals tend to be calorie-heavy meals. Try not to base an entire meal around noodles, rice or bread.
8. Serve vegetables 24/7
Try to have vegetables available round the clock. They’re low-calorie and nutrient dens. Have kid-friendly veggies washed, chopped and ready to eat.
9. Discourage liquid calories
Liquid calories are digested much more quickly than solid calories — thus, sugary beverages will provide your kids with a lot of extra calories without filling them up. If your kids drink them, it’s likely they’ll eat just as much food as they would have eaten without the extra calories. Instead, encourage LOTS of water!
Look how quickly the calories add up:
• 8-ounce cup of regular chocolate milk = 210 calories
• 20-ounce bottle of Coke = 240 calories
• 8-ounce cup of orange juice = 110 calories
• 8-ounce cup apple juice = 110 calories
Total = 670 calories!
10. Encourage daily exercise
Get you kids moving and keep them moving — aim for an hour each day. Limit the TV and video games and encourage after-school sports, bike riding, long walks, jumping rope, hide and seek, rock hunting … anything goes.
For more information on healthy eating, visit TODAY nutrition expert, Joy Bauer’s website (and check out her new book Joy Bauer’s Food Cures) at www.joybauernutrition.com