As recently as a century ago, fat babies and toddlers were considered to be the epitome of cuteness and health. When food was scarcer and harder to come by, fluffy-cheeked kids were a sign that a family was doing well and that the kids for well cared for. Today, however, these remnant expectations of "baby fat" have proven to be a serious problem for our kids, with many parents in denial of their toddlers' obesity.
A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent medicine found that more than 70% of mothers inaccurately assessed their toddlers' body sizes. When shown silhouettes of toddlers of varying weights, most assessed their overweight and obese toddlers as being average, while the moms of underweight toddlers had realistic understandings of their kids' sizes.
I've personally witnessed this phenomenon repeatedly. My daughter, now four years old, is a healthy but relatively low weight, at around the 25th percentile. I used to worry unnecessarily because she was smaller than her peers and-- at least when it came to toddlers-- I associated fatness with good health. I felt like her relatively slim figure was a sign that I wasn't doing something right.
When she was a toddler, the moms of visibly obese toddlers would frequently comment that she's "so tiny," leaving me feeling that my child was somehow significantly underfed or unhealthy-- and like it was my fault that she wasn't as fluffy as some of her peers. In reality, it was the overweight toddlers who were suffering from poor nutrition, but our standards that equate childhood obesity with cuteness and wealth blocked their parents from noticing the problem.
All children are beautiful, and a chubby-cheeked, bright-eyed two-year-old is in no way aesthetically inferior to his slimmer peers. However, we now live in a time and place where our kids suffer from too much of the wrong food-- not too little of the right food-- and we can't afford to continue to hurt our kids by ignoring childhood obesity as "baby fat" or a sign of health and happiness. Obesity-- no matter the age of the person it affects-- is a problem.
The Centers for Disease Control states that a whopping 17% of American children are obese, and an even greater number are overweight. Even at a young age, the condition can cause health problems and can predispose children to greater health hazards later in life. For our kids' sake, we can't keep looking the other way when we see toddlers already showing signs of obesity. A sweet-cheeked, chubby toddler may be cute and charming, but parents and pediatricians need to work to ensure healthy habits that prevent "baby fat" from turning into severe obesity later in life.