by Angie Smith

The plump, reddish cheeks and fat fingers of babies and toddlers are sure to charm anyone. Certainly, nobody wants to have a bony baby. At a child's baby stage, plump is not uncommon, but when a child adds more weight than is proportionate to his height, it may be time to worry about obesity. After all, not all kids lose their "baby fat" automatically.

Simply put, obesity is an excessive amount of body fat. This condition leads to various health problems including diabetes, arthritis, cancer, respiratory problems and cardio-vascular disease, which can affect a child's health as they grow. My cute little cousin kept getting fatter until he became obese. Despite two heart attacks at an early age, his diet and eating habits did not change. He died at 15. This story is becoming more common as the number of obese children increases.

Childhood obesity not only leads to increased risk of physical problems and adult obesity, but it also takes an emotional toll as well. Obese children are subject to teasing and can be socially isolated by their peers. This is detrimental to their self-image and can lead to an increased consumption of food to try and lessen the pain.

It is important to help a child develop good eating habits from the start. It has been shown that a child's eating habits are directly affected by his emotional state and his relationship with his parents. Parents need to take the time to involve themselves in helping their children make healthy lifestyle decisions, even during the toddler years.

A diet that promotes normal body weight includes fresh fruit, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates. Even snacks can be highly nutritious and tasty as well. So, parents should encourage their children to eat less high-fat and high-sugar foods. They should be sure to have healthy substitutes like fresh juices, fruit, baked chips, whole grain crackers, and vegetables for their children to eat.

Parents should also remember that their own habits can have a great impact on their children. If the mother or father is constantly snacking or spends many hours watching TV, this will have a large impact on how the child decides to live their life because children often emulate their parents. So, children should be encouraged to spend more time outdoors playing ball games or riding bicycles. The more active a child is, the less likely he is to become obese.

Everyone should remember that kids need to grow. Their diets should not be restricted so much that it will be deficient in necessary nutrients or energy for proper growth and development. Low-fat diets are not usually the best for kids because fat is a source of energy for the body, but it is best to choose foods that contain unsaturated fat, like avocados, nuts and seeds, as opposed to the saturated fat in meat and dairy.

If you suspect your child is obese take him to a doctor to measure his body mass index (BMI). Should this show he has more fat than necessary, get professional help to safely get him back to his normal weight. Be supportive and help your kids have a realistic expectation of their bodies and themselves.