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To help prevent obesity, give your kid a smaller plate

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  April 8, 2013 06:59 AM

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Sometimes, the best ideas are the simplest ones.

full plate.jpg
If there's anything we need some good ideas for, it's childhood obesity. A third of US kids are overweight or obese (nearly one in five is obese), and this has huge (excuse the pun) implications for their future health. Unless we do something, they are likely to end up with heart disease, diabetes, cancer and all the other health problems (not to mention the social and emotional problems) that obesity can bring. This is the first generation that may actually die before their parents. 

A study just released in the journal Pediatrics has a beautifully simple idea: give kids smaller plates.

Researchers gave adult-sized and kid-sized plates to first graders at an elementary school in Philadelphia, and let them serve themselves lunch. Guess what happened? The kids with bigger plates served themselves more--and ate more.

This has something of a "duh" feel to it--and at the same time, it's brilliant. If we want kids to eat kid-sized portions, then we might should give them kid-sized plates. This is something we could all do right this second. There are no arguments or logistics or money involved (except, perhaps, to buy smaller plates). It won't cure childhood obesity, but it's a clear, easy step in the right direction.

While we're concentrating on plates, here are two more things to think about:
  • Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for logo-choose-my-plate.pngMake your plate look like the plate at half fruits and vegetables, a quarter whole grains, and a quarter protein (like meat, fish or eggs). Those are the proportions that make up the healthiest diet.
  • Don't make kids finish everything on their plates. The Clean Plate Club (a phrase my parents used often) is a really bad idea. It's way better to let kids listen to their own hunger cues, and stop eating when they are full. Make sure they eat at least some of the fruits or vegetables on the plate (in our house, the rule is three bites), but if they leave food on their plate, that's fine. One big caveat, though: resist the temptation to let them raid the cupboard when they don't finish their meal. If you want to reinforce good eating habits, they should wait until the next scheduled (healthy) meal or snack.
Even if your child isn't overweight (to find out, check out this BMI calculator), using a smaller plate is a good idea. The habits learned in childhood can last a lifetime--and we want that lifetime to be a healthy one.

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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