Obesity among two to five year olds has decreased significantly over the past decade, but those gains trail off for people further and further down the socio-economic ladder. Health reporter Erin Billups takes a look at a program that gives lower-income mothers the tools to fight childhood obesity in our latest Fit Kids February report.
Mothers in Bellevue Hospital's Starting Early class are learning the difference between store bought baby food and foods they've prepared.
"If you look at the store bought sweet potatoes, it's almost liquid and it's more processed even though it's a natural ingredient, it's not the same as a less processed food and that's one of our points," says Dr. Mary Jo Messito, Attending Pediatrician and Director of the Starting Early Program.
The point of the class is to prevent childhood obesity.
"I've been a pediatrician here for a long time and what I was starting to see is that kids at age three already had bad habits, they didn't like vegetables, they preferred sweet drinks and junk foods," says Dr. Messito.
Mothers with healthy pregnancies enroll in the course during their third trimester. Classes are timed with their child's checkups at the hospital, until age three. They touch on a variety of topics like the importance of breastfeeding, to teaching parents to recognize when their children are full.
"One of the reasons kids are overfed is because the parents are afraid the children are hungry and especially if they grow up with deprivation of food or they're insecure about, you know, their finances or their food sources, that's even more of a focus for them," says Dr. Messito.
Another factor in the obesity equation is too much salt.
"I'm a Hispanic household, Mexican. So we eat a lot of salt, a lot of Sazon, so it is a little bit difficult but I mean, they taught us to moderate. So that's been the best," says Patricia Lopez, a new mom enrolled in the program.
Parents also are told about the importance of exercise, even for babies.
"For example I'm supposed to give them tummy time so they get stronger, I didn't know that and that they like to touch a lot of things," notes Lopez.
The program is part of a study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"We've looked at some of our early results and we're starting to see impacts where more of the mothers who are getting intervention are breastfeeding exclusively. Less of them are giving juice," says Dr. Messito.