Weight Issues in Children

Is your child overweight? It may be hard to tell. As children grow and develop, weight changes are normal. If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, talk to your doctor. Your doctor will use a chart to determine your child’s ideal weight. If your child is heavier than 95% of other children the same age and height, he or she is considered to be overweight.

The good news is that you can teach your child life-long healthy habits. The earlier the better. Not all children who are overweight have weight problems as adults. However, as a child gets older, his or her risk for remaining overweight increases. The risk is even higher if one or both parents are overweight.

Path to improved well being

There are things you can do to teach your child to eat healthy and exercise at a young age. These include:

  • Provide a healthy diet for your child. Determine how many calories your child should eat, and read the Nutrition Facts Label when eating packaged food. Provide plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you are unsure of what to serve, talk to your doctor or a dietician.
  • Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages, such as fruit juices, fruit drinks, regular-calorie soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened or flavored milk, or sweetened iced tea. Have your child drink water as much as possible. Whole fruits are better than fruit juices. Juices contain added sugar.
  • Make healthy eating and exercise a family affair.
  • Eat meals and snacks together as a family.
  • Don’t let your child eat in front of the TV, or while playing video games or being on the computer. Insist that he or she sit at the kitchen table. Limit screen time to 2 hours per day.
  • Teach your child to eat slowly and to stop when they feel full.
  • Avoid fast food.
  • Spend time with your child being active. Go on walks or ride bikes together. Find a local pool and swim together. Encourage your child to join sports teams. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) encourages all children and adolescents to get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity every day.
  • Be a good role model. If you are eating healthy and exercising, your child will too.
  • Praise your child for his or her strengths to build self-esteem.

For younger children who are overweight but getting taller, the healthiest goal is to have them “grow into” the weight. This is better than trying to lose weight. Talk to your doctor about realistic goals. Be patient. It may take some time.

Things to consider

Being overweight can lead to chronic diseases as an adult. This includes high blood pressure and diabetes. Provide positive support for a healthy life. Avoid a negative approach. This includes:

  • Don’t force your child to eat when he or she isn’t hungry.
  • Don’t force your child to “clean his or her plate.”
  • Don’t use food as comfort or a reward.
  • Don’t offer dessert as a reward for finishing a meal. This places more importance on sweets over healthy choices.
  • Don’t limit how much food your child can eat while he or she is in a growth spurt. Simply offer healthy choices.
  • Don’t put too much emphasis on losing weight.
  • Never give your child diet medicines.

A hormone imbalance is probably not the reason your child struggles with weight. Children who have a hormone imbalance grow slower than other children and they often have other symptoms. This includes fatigue, constipation, or dry skin. If your child has these symptoms, talk with your doctor.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How can I control the types of food my teenager buys for school lunches?
  • What should I do if my child has poor self-esteem at a young age because of his or her weight?
  • What if my child doesn’t like to be physically active or can’t be active?