By Melissa Maynarich, NEWS 9
Obesity is a growing problem in the U.S., and a group of experts said kids who have "baby fat" could grow into unhealthy adults.
New programs are designed to battle the baby bulge by teaching good habits as early in childhood as possible.
Four-year-old Sofia Banuet and her mother received a lesson in proper nutrition through one of the programs. Sofia said she knows milk, vegetables and fruit all make her body healthy and strong.
Their teacher, pediatrician Wendy Slusser, started a program targeting young children. She encourages healthy eating and exercise habits.
"The problem of obesity in preschool-aged children is very concerning," Slusser said.
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 12 percent of children ages two to five-years-old are considered obese. Sixty-five percent of overweight children already have one additional risk factor for heart disease like elevated cholesterol, blood pressure or insulin.
"Certainly the earlier it begins, the more concerned we ought to be," said Dr. William Dietz of the CDCP. "Those children don't generally lose weight as they grow older, but they get fatter."
Early prevention programs for parents and children are being created in hospitals throughout the country. There are also school-based programs like SPARK, or Sports Play and Active Recreation for Kids, taught at hundreds of daycare centers and schools across the country to children of all sizes.
"The philosophy behind out program is that we are doing our best to increase movement," said SPARK trainer Bernadette Garcia-Rogers.
Dietz agreed physical activity is key, but organized activity isn't always necessary.
"Just watch children on the street or young children on the playground," Dietz said. "They're always moving. We don't have to train them to move, we have to give them opportunities to move."
Dietz also said educating the parent of proper nutrition is the most important step towards future health.
"There's no reason why a two to five-year-old needs to be involved in decisions of what they're eating or their physical activity. It doesn't matter to them," Dietz said.
Parents were fully involved in Slusser's education program. She stressed healthy eating and follows basic guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"Five or more fruits and vegetables a day," Slusser said. "Two hours or less of TV a day."
Both doctors insisted formal weight loss programs should be left for extreme cases.
"Doctors have a role in diagnosing overweight by calculating the BMI, which is the body mass index," Slusser said.
Sofia's mother was concerned about her daughter's weight a couple of years ago, but Sofia has since moved within a normal range and is on track for a healthy future.
When calculating the BMI for children, parents are reminded that the numbers are different for adults. Click here to calculate a child or teen's BMI.