Childhood Obesity: Are Parents to Blame?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of childhood obesity has tripled over the past 30 years-and we as parents may not be helping to reduce it, says Dr. Natalie Muth, author of "Eat Your Vegetables and Other Mistakes Parents Make."

Dr. Muth tells Away We Grow host Diane Mizota that a common parental practice that could lead to childhood weight gain is the "clean plate club." When parents require their children to eat everything on the plate, kids then lose the ability to use their own feelings of hunger and fullness to decide how much to eat. "And that habit stays with that child for their whole life," says Dr. Muth.

How parents try to get their children to eat vegetables may also lead to problems down the road. A classic mistake that parents may make is to tell their children that if they eat the vegetables, they can then have dessert. All of a sudden, the dessert becomes a reward.

"It starts early, with our preschoolers. We set them up to rely on food-usually unhealthy food-to make them feel good," notes Dr. Muth.

Dr. Muth also recommends not catering to picky eaters. "We're actually setting our kids up to have struggles with their weight down the road," she says. "Parents need to provide their children with a healthy balanced meal, and the child will come around, and they will eat," says Dr. Muth.

As for products that claim to be 100 percent juice or fruit, Muth urges caution. She notes, "They've taken out the fiber. They've taken out the good stuff and left you with pretty much sugar in a cup. Our kids are much better off eating the real fruit. They get a lot more vitamins, a lot more minerals, a lot more nutrition, and it fills them up."

Parents also need to get their children involved with physical activity of all kinds, Dr. Muth says. "We need to get our kids up off the couch and get them moving again. We need to help our kids to remember how much fun it is to be active and to get moving. Set the stage so that they're out there doing that and playing and breaking a sweat and having fun." Dr. Muth also suggests that parents keep healthy food in the home "so a child doesn't have to choose between potato chips and an apple-because really what's there is an apple and a pear. "