One of the reasons childhood obesity is climbing to epidemic proportions is that kids are being fed too much food, says a New York pediatrician.
"And of course the food they are eating is not natural but is mainly processed and artificial," says Joanna Dolgoff. "And our kids are watching TV and playing video games instead of running outside to play."
Dolgoff, 35, a mother of two, became so concerned about the number of young patients she was seeing who were overweight that she decided to leave her general practice and focus on the obesity issue.
Besides maintaining two clinics in the metro New York area, she has compiled "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right: The Food Solution That Lets Kids Be Kids" (Rodale, $25.99). It's a book for parents and their overweight children using the colour of traffic lights to divide food into three categories.
Green Light stands for Go, Yellow means Slow while Red is Uh Oh. In the book the doctor has colour-coded more than 1,000 foods and determined appropriate serving sizes using this traffic light system.
The book includes kid- and parent-friendly nutritious but tasty recipes for everything from soup to desserts.
According to Statistics Canada, 26 per cent of Canadian children between the ages of two and 19 are overweight or obese.
Dolgoff's nutrition plan is a result of her research into kids' diets and into what hasn't worked and what does, she says.
"Children are not just small adults. Their bodies are changing and they have different types of needs, so it's a real mistake to try to treat a child in any aspect of medicine the same way you treat an adult," she explains.
Dolgoff recommends children should get the nutrients they need to grow strong healthy bodies.
"Most of my patients tend to be in the nine-to-11 age range which I did not anticipate, but maybe that's the time when parents start to realize the baby fat isn't going away and it's not cute anymore."
Dolgoff says that parents who want to help their children lose weight should plan ahead so they aren't caught giving them unhealthy meals when no alternative exists.
"Plan over the weekend so you have everything ready. (Planning is) what parents today are lacking - they leave it to the last minute."
Dolgoff analyzes what parents should watch for when they take their children to restaurants.
"In fast-food restaurants kids' menus are loaded with fat and calories in foods such as chicken nuggets, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, pizza and french fries."
When deciding which restaurant to choose, Dolgoff suggests parents go online and check out the menu beforehand.
"This program is not a diet. It's a plan to sustain children over the long run," she says. "Everything is OK in moderation and we want to teach kids to incorporate those unhealthy foods into a healthy lifestyle so they won't feel deprived."