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Preventing toddlers from gaining belly fat

September 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Visceral fat, also known as belly fat or organ fat, is packed inside the abdominal cavity around the stomach, liver, intestines and kidneys.

The latest studies show losing this type of fat requires aerobic activity equivalent to running three miles a day. But the best course of action is preventing visceral fat build up to begin with.

A group of toddlers got a crash course in belly fat busting. Experts say bad eating behaviors start early.

Four-year-old Priscilla Moore is a happy, healthy pre-schooler. Her mom wants to keep it that way.

"I do notice if she eats a couple of desserts that are really rich, two nights in a row I can see it. I can see the weight gain. Immediately," said her mother, Barbara Moore.

Priscilla eats what her mom packs. Barbara is learning a few empty-calorie snacks like cookies and chips can add up.

She and other parents at the Bright Horizons day care at the University of California at Los Angeles are getting precise advice on what makes a balanced lunch.

"At every meal, you want to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables," said Dr. Dena Herman, a pediatric dietitian.

Your plate should also contain grains.

"When you're looking at a grain product, the most important thing is three grams of more of fiber per serving," Herman said.

Her example is whole grain pita pieces. Pack a serving of dairy like non-fat milk or yogurt and protein like hummus, chicken, turkey and cheese. And don't forget the fruit.

Herman says don't get frustrated if your child won't eat it. Be persistent and creative.

"You can keep changing the options the way you offer them and eventually they kind of give in," she said.

Herman says all this education is not just about building a healthier body. It's also about building a more informed mind because the eating habits your child has as a toddler are the same eating habits they're going to have as a teen and as an adult.

Moore knows she can't shield her daughter from every non-nutritious snack, but she wants to help her lay a foundation for healthy eating.

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