Chubby kids are becoming the norm in Ontario classrooms but research shows that kids as young as four are literally expanding at an alarming rate.

Thirty-two percent of Canadian children are overweight or in danger of becoming overweight, according to Statistics Canada, and that statistic is not budging.

For endocrinologist Dr. Jill Hamilton at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children this comes as no surprise. “In society, the overall trend is toward weight gain and basically all the age groups are being affected,” she says.

Hamilton sees very young children in her office who are in danger of developing serious health issues that twenty years ago were really only seen in adults, like fatty liver disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

But the health risks are only part of the problem. “In the very young groups, we see kids who experience psychosocial, negative consequences particularly if they’re very overweight, like teasing, bullying and low self-esteem,” says Hamilton.

And they don't outgrow it. Studies show that kids who start out overweight stay that way.

“If you have a sedentary preschooler and they’re increasing their weight, they’re not as likely to become more active,” stresses Hamilton. “If they’re heavier, they tend to move less. So you’re setting up a situation that can certainly get worse.”

Too much time watching TV and on the computer, no exercise and fatty foods are to blame for our own expanding waistlines and kids are no different. But small changes can make a big difference in your house. Here are some tips to creating a healthier lifestyle for your family:

  • Turn off the technology. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends no more than an hour of screen time a day. Instead of sitting them in front of a screen, play music and dance around the house, go for a walk, or have them help you prepare a meal.
  • Cut out the juice. Unsweetened juices are considered, by parents, to be a healthy choice for young kids because they’re marketed that way. “Even if it’s unsweetened, juices have a lot of sugar,” says Hamilton. “If your kid is drinking four big glasses of juice a day that means you may be up to 1,000 calories just in juice. It’s also filling so kids tend to consume more calories directly with the juice and they may also eat less of other foods which are better choices.” Of course pop and other sugary drinks should be out too. If your child is hooked on juice, dilute it over time and restrict the number glasses allowed. Introduce alternatives like milk and water when they are thirsty.
     
  • Never put a child on a “diet.” Instead, check out EatRight Ontario for a guide to making healthier choices and portion size. Stay away from foods that are high in fat, calories and sugar but low in nutrition.
     
  • Schedule time each day for the whole family to do something physical. If your work schedule doesn’t allow for a lot of time, do as much as you can within the time you do have. Even playing tag around the house for 15 minutes is a good way to get the heart rate up and kids love it.
     
  • Make it a family lifestyle change. There are many families in which one child can eat a lot without gaining weight while a sibling cannot. It is not fair to allow one child to eat junk and not allow the other. Also, singling out one child will contribute to low self-esteem. Instead, get the junk food out of the house and have the whole family eat healthier foods.