Obesity is a growing problem, that is the downside to a a world where agricultural science has allowed plentiful food to be grown cheaply. With kids the problem is compounded. Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. A population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Maintaining a healthy weight often starts young - but all is not lost if you reach adulthood and are too heavy, because adults know what to do. Kids are less self-aware so they may need you to help them avoid pitfalls. If you have young kids, here is what to watch out for, according to a new University of Illinois study:

(1) Inadequate sleep - this may surprise a lot of parents, who look forward to a child's bedtime in a way childless couples simply cannot understand, but some parents let their kids stay up too late. Put them to bed. If they are in bed, they are resting their growing brains and their kidneys are not processing food because they are not eating it.

(2) Parental BMI - we all know about about genetics. Some people simply have a higher metabolism and there's no point in lamenting that any more than it makes sense to resent tall people or world-class athletes. But there is also somewhat fuzzy evidence for epigenetics and then plain old socialization. If a parent is obese, it means they have a lifestyle and eating habits that involves a lot of food. And that will be passed along.

(3) is a little less common sense, but don't restrict a child's diet to control weight. We control access to violence in media and cigarettes and alcohol so why wouldn't you put a kid on a diet if they are fat? The pop psychology excuse is that they will want junk food more if you take it away.


Of course, these are just predictors, not a template. The only sure-fire way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume. For kids, it simply means less time with tablets and televisions but, as with Item 2 above, kids see through 'do as I say and not as I do' rationalization rather quickly.

The researchers narrowed down those 3 from 22 variables that had previously been identified as predictors of child obesity. The results were compiled from a survey distributed to 329 parent-child dyads recruited from child-care programs in east-central Illinois as part of the University of Illinois' STRONG (Synergistic Theory and Research on Obesity and Nutrition Group) Kids Program. This study is based on the first wave of data generated in this longitudinal study, taken when the children were two years old.

In addition to the above, they recommend letting kids take what they want from food bowls - they will learn early on not to waste food - rather than plating it for them. That encourages self-regulation and to be thoughtful about what they are eating, said Brent McBride, a University of Illinois professor of human development and director of the university's Child Development Laboratory.