"Overweight" and "at
risk of overweight" are terms sometimes used when referring to children who
weigh more than expected. Doctors use the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention growth charts or the
body mass index (BMI) to measure a child's weight in
relation to his or her height. To find out your child's BMI, use this
Interactive Tool: Is Your Child at a Healthy Weight?
If you have concerns that your child is
overweight or at risk of becoming so, first ask your
doctor to review your child's growth charts and medical history with
If your child's BMI has been high on the growth chart from
birth, this may be his or her healthy size and growth rate. He or she may
simply be bigger than other children of the same gender and age.
your child's BMI pattern has suddenly jumped from a lower range to a higher
range on the growth chart, your child may be at risk of becoming overweight.
Your doctor will carefully track growth over time, watching for a change in the
rate of weight gain.
If your family has a
obesity, your child has a higher risk of becoming
Sometimes a child's BMI and weight can increase without a
child being at risk of having too much body fat. For instance, before and
during puberty it is normal for children to have a significant gain in weight
before they begin to grow in height. Also, children who are very muscular (such
as children who are very active in sports), may have a high BMI but have normal
or even lower-than-normal amounts of body fat.
If your child's BMI
and growth pattern suggest a weight problem, your doctor will give your child
an exam that looks for health problems that can cause weight gain. This may
include questions about
eating and physical activity habits. Regular checkups
for health problems will also be important over time.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.
Your job is to offer nutritious food
choices at meals and snack times. You decide what,
where, and when your family eats. Your child's job is
to choose how much he or she will eat of the foods you serve. Your
child even gets to decide whether to eat.
restrict food. Food restriction causes children to ignore their internal hunger
gauges. Children who have their food restricted often end up heavier, because
they become anxious about food and eating. Anxiety about not getting enough to
eat will often lead a child to overeat whenever he or she gets a chance. This
causes the child to become less in touch with how hungry or full he or she is,
and the child becomes more likely to eat more than his or her body needs. This
can also happen when children or teens follow weight-loss diets. It doesn't
work to put a child on a diet-you get the opposite effect.
attention to behaviors that may be adding to weight gain, and then work to
correct them. Then trust that your child will end up at the weight that is right
for him or her.
If you are concerned about your child's weight,
talk to your child's doctor. He or she can tell you if your child is gaining
weight too quickly and can give you steps to take to help your child have a
As a parent, your job
is to give your child the tools for a healthy lifestyle and remain as relaxed
as possible about the result.
To help your overweight child eat
well, use the same healthy eating approach with everyone in your family:
Eat together as a family as much as possible. The
entire family, regardless of each family member's weight, should be offered the
same food choices at meals.
Choose water instead of sugary drinks,
such as sport drinks, soft drinks, fruit juices, and fruit-flavored drinks. For some kids,
cutting back on sugary drinks makes a big difference in balancing the calories
that they take in and burn off.
Remember that all foods, even
less nutritious foods in small amounts, can fit into a healthy diet. Do not
make any food item completely off limits. This may increase the desire for the
forbidden food and can lead children to overeat when they get the chance.
Avoid power struggles over food. Your job is to provide healthy choices at specific
snack and mealtimes. It's your child's job to choose to eat or not
Have a regular meal and snack routine instead of snacking
throughout the day. Schedule snacks for when your child is most hungry, such as
after school or exercise.
Offer nutritious food choices.
Keep foods moderate in calories to help your child avoid
getting too many calories. But don't make meals so low-calorie that your child
can't feel full.
Avoid using food as a reward, whether for an
achievement or for "eating all your green beans." (The "nutritious food,
then dessert" tactic makes the healthier food seem like a less desirable
Serve dessert as part of the meal to avoid the "dessert
struggle." Offer healthier desserts, such as yogurt and fruit, more often than
rich desserts. When you serve a rich dessert, it's okay to set out a single
portion for each person.
To help your overweight child develop a balance between
the calories he or she takes in and burns off:
Shift the focus away from pounds and toward a
healthy lifestyle by avoiding weighing your child every day. Think about not even
using the bathroom scale.
Move more. Make fun physical activity a
part of your family's daily life.
Keep total TV and computer
"screen time" to 2 or fewer hours a day.1 Encourage
outdoor play as often as possible. Children should have at least 1 hour of
moderate to vigorous activity each day.
As for any child with health concerns, make sure your
child has all of the well-child checkups and treatment that your doctor
Helping your child with social and emotional concerns
It doesn't take long for children to figure out that our culture and
their peers idealize thinness. Children who
are overweight are especially at risk of being teased and feeling alone. This
can cause low self-esteem and
For information about
helping a child who is being teased, see the topic
To help your child
have greater health, confidence, and self-esteem, you can:
Avoid talking in terms of your child's weight.
How you talk about your child's body has a big impact on your child's
self-image. Instead, talk in terms of your child's health, activity level, and
other healthy lifestyle choices.
Be a good role model by having
a healthy attitude about food and activity. Even if you struggle with how you
feel about your own body, avoid talk in front of your child about "being fat"
and "needing to diet." Instead, talk about and make the same healthy lifestyle
choices you'd like for your child.
Encourage activities, such as
sports and theater. Physical activity helps build physical and emotional
confidence. Try different types of sports and activities until your child finds
one that he or she likes. Theater can help a child project strength and confidence,
even if he or she doesn't feel it at first.
involvement in community, church, and school activities, which build social
skills and confidence.
Help your child eat well by providing
healthy food choices. Consider seeing a
registered dietitian for guidance and new food
Forbid any child (yours included) to tease another
child about weight. Talk to your child's teachers and/or counselors, if
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.