In children who are otherwise healthy, weight gain most often occurs when a child consumes more calories than he or she burns. Children need extra calories to grow and develop. But, just as with adults, if a child takes in more calories than are used, the body stores these extra calories as fat.
Good nutrition and physical activity can help your child achieve and maintain a healthy weight. If you can help your child establish good eating and exercise habits at an early age, those good habits will continue to benefit your child as he or she grows into an adult. Staying fit helps prevent the health problems that being overweight or obese can cause later in life. Health problems associated with overweight and obesity include:
A child who has weight problems may also have low self-esteem, be teased or bullied about his or her weight, be depressed, feel bad about his or her body, or feel isolated and alone. These feelings may interfere with a child’s ability to learn, make friends and interact with others.
Try to limit screen time to no more than 1 to 2 hours each day or less. Screen time includes playing video or computer games, surfing the Internet or watching television or DVDs
Your child is aware of the decisions you make about how you live your life. Although you may not realize it, what your child sees you do influences the choices he or she makes. If your child sees you exercising regularly, he or she will be more likely to be more active, too.
Make physical activity part of your family’s normal routine. For example, you can take the dog for a walk each morning, or shoot hoops before dinner every evening. The type of physical activity isn’t the same for every family. But look for some way to introduce regular exercise into your family’s lifestyle.
By teaching and encouraging healthy eating habits, you are giving your child important tools for a lifetime of healthy living. You can also make great strides in how your child views healthy eating by setting a good example.
Another tip to keep in mind is to avoid using food as a reward. Instead, reward good behaviors with a fun family activity, such as bowling rather than ice cream or roller skating instead of hamburgers and fries.
It can be challenging to know if something about a child’s behavior is worthy of real concern. Signs that may be worthy of a call to your child’s family doctor include anything that seems unusual compared with your child’s usual habits and patterns.
Does your child seem to be eating out of boredom, for comfort or in response to other emotions? This is called emotional eating. Emotional eating can lead to weight problems or make existing weight problems worse. It may also be an indicator that your child is struggling to deal with feelings like depression or stress.
Pay attention to warning signs of eating disorders. These include being overly concerned about calories, anxious about body weight, not eating at all, binge eating or exercising excessively. Though unusual in children, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia can occur, and the risk increases as a child grows into a teen and young adult.
If you have any concerns about your child’s behavior, be sure to talk to his or her doctor.
This content was developed with general underwriting support from The Coca-Cola Company.
American Heart Association. Make Fast Food Friendlier. Accessed January 14, 2011
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. We Can! Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition. Accessed January 14, 2011
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff