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THERE’S AN epidemic of obesity among adults and teens in the United States. But you already know that. What you may not know is that the rising fat tide has even reached toddlers and preschoolers.

That’s right. The number of overweight or obese 3- and 4-year-olds has more than doubled in the last 20 years.

“Children are becoming obese even before they enter elementary school,” according to Temple University’s Robert Whitaker, a professor of pediatrics and public health at the Center for Obesity Research and Education.

My mother-in-law works at an elementary school. She told me, “I am simply shocked by the number of obese little children I see in today’s schools. When I was coming up, you never saw obese 5-year-olds. . . . And worse, I see more of these kids with chronic health conditions. Many of these little babies have to have their blood sugar checked before and after lunch and recess, too.”

Whitaker surveyed more than 1,500 Head Start directors across the country about childhood obesity. The respondents said that they lacked time, money and knowledge to combat the problem, according to a report in the March issue of Health Affairs.

Some directors also felt blocked by the cultural belief among their staffers and parents that heavier children are healthier.

While the childhood obesity epidemic is complex, moms are clearly at the forefront of the battle. Why? Because, generally, we’re the ones who make nutritional choices for our families.

Is it time for mom to get back into the kitchen?

As a woman heavily influenced by womanist and feminist ideals, not in a million years did I think I would ever utter those words. But emergencies require emergency measures.

Surprisingly, simple household routines may offer the biggest promise of reversing and preventing obesity in preschoolers.

According to Whitaker, these three practical steps could reduce your child’s risk of obesity by a whopping 40 percent:

_ Eat the evening meal at home together as a family six to seven days a week.

_ Make sure children get adequate nighttime sleep – 10 1/2 hours or more.

_ Limit screen time (TV, videos) to no more than two hours daily.

By Kimberly Garrison

Philadelphia Daily News

Daily News Personal FItness Columnist

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