September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Close to 1 in 5 children in the United States are obese. The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children. By 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were obese or overweight.
Local experts say it isn't too late to reverse the trend.
"We try not to be discouraged," said El Paso pediatrician Dr. Rana Kronfol. "We take it more as a challenge rather than discouragement. We are still in a point in their lives where we can instill some good habits before they leave our world."
Kronfol doesn't hesitate when telling parents their children's weight is becoming a problem.
"Sometimes they feel like it's almost a personal attack, and it's really not meant to be," Kronfol said. "I comment, 'If I don't tell you this, I'm not really helping you and I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing.'"
Kronfol says the little pansa, or belly, on a toddler is not cute or healthy on an older child.
"I think 'overweight' is something that people think looks fine. And I think the issue with that is a lot of people are overweight, and that's become the new norm," said Kronfol.
El Paso dietician Eloisa Mena agreed, and added that childhood obesity is an epidemic.
"I feel like there's definitely a variety of factors that have led to this," Mena said. "It includes fast food options, and just not knowing what to eat -- education -- and also training those taste buds early on."
Kronfol and Mena acknowledge that the parent is setting the example with their own eating habits.
"I do encounter some resistance," Kronfol said. "I think everybody knows what a healthy diet is, and everybody knows that kids should eat more fruits and vegetables.
"The problem is, if that child comes from an environment of obesity, healthy eating is all relative."
"The children take off the parents' habits," Mena said. "If the parent has a habit of only eating a granola bar for breakfast, the child is going to see that and pick up that habit."
Health experts urge parents to begin small by adding fruits and vegetables to each meal, and swapping out foods like white rice and breads with brown and whole grain versions.
See The United States Department of Agriculture's recommendations for portion sizes and other ways to improve eating habits here.