DEAR ABBY: “Milwaukee Grandma” (Feb. 16) was “appalled to see the number of adults who forced their children to eat” in restaurants. “Grandma” is absolutely right. Children will eat when hungry and stop when they have had enough. The old saying “Clean your plate” is contributing to the obesity epidemic. Children are born with the ability to self- regulate their food intake. Notice how many babies move their heads away from the bottle or breast when they are full.

 Eating out is expensive, and restaurants tend to serve portions that are larger than necessary for a child’s small stomach. Instead of forcing the child to finish, parents should take half the dinner home for a later time.

 The obesity epidemic is based on many factors, including excessive meal portions, decreased physical activity, abundance of junk food, and lack of available and affordable healthy foods in some areas of the country — to name a few.

 Parents can make a difference by involving their children in the shopping for and preparation of meals, eating as a family with the TV shut off and making activity fun and a part of the everyday routine. — DIETITIAN IN GARDNER, MASS.

 DEAR DIETITIAN: Thank you for enlightening me regarding the obesity epidemic. A number of other readers weighed in on the topic with interesting insights. Read on:

 DEAR ABBY: I was raised by parents who forced me to “clean my plate or else.” They were the ones who fixed my plate or decided what to order us kids in restaurants. Eating became a negative experience as I was growing up.

 It wasn’t until I got counseling prior to my gastric bypass surgery that I learned to stop eating when I was full instead of feeling guilty unless I cleaned my plate. In counseling, I was told it was OK to leave food on my plate — but by then I weighed 400 pounds.

 It’s better to teach children to eat at mealtime, be responsible when it comes to snacking and “listen to your body” when it says, “I’m full.” — HAPPY WITH MY WEIGHT NOW

 DEAR ABBY: As a family and consumer sciences educator, one of the courses I teach in child development is “division of responsibility.” This means it’s the parents’ responsibility to offer nutritious food choices to their children, and the children’s responsibility to decide how much to eat.

 By forcing children to “clean their plate,” we are overriding the natural programming they are born with that tells them when they are full and to stop eating. When we teach children to eat past natural satiation, obesity is the natural consequence. — LAURA IN MOSCOW, IDAHO

 DEAR ABBY: We have one child with severe food allergies and two others who have ADD and emotional issues. Their medications decrease their appetites, which makes it difficult for them to gain weight and grow. We may be the parents “Milwaukee Grandma” is referring to as we urge our children to eat more.

 There are many children out there with medical challenges that make getting enough nutrients difficult. Other illnesses require some kids to consume a certain number of calories. For some, being in the “Clean Plate Club” is critical to their health and well-being. — MOM TO 4 SKINNY KIDS

 Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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