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Helping Your Child Who Is Overweight

Overview

How do you know if your child is overweight?

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 compared to their height.

If you are concerned that your child is—or could become—overweight, talk about this with your child's doctor. The doctor may:

  • Ask about how your child's diet and weight have changed over time.
  • Ask if there is a family history of health problems. These may include obesity, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease.
  • Give your child a physical exam. Your doctor will check your child's health and look for early signs of problems, such as type 2 diabetes. Your doctor also will look for emotional issues, such as depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder.
  • Test your child for causes of weight gain. These may include blood tests to check your child's blood sugar level and to look for thyroid problems.

What changes might your doctor recommend?

If your child is overweight, your doctor may recommend that you make changes in your family's eating and exercise habits. A child who weighs too much may develop serious health problems. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. Eating healthy foods and getting more exercise can help your child have better health. It can also give them more energy so that they can do better at school and enjoy more activities.

It may help to know that you don't have to make huge changes at once. Weight-loss diets aren't recommended for most children. Instead, start making small changes in eating habits and exercise as a family. Helping your child be more active can help them stay at a weight that is healthy for them.

If you have questions about how to make changes to your family's eating habits, ask your doctor about seeing a registered dietitian. A dietitian can help you and your child develop healthier eating habits.

What are some ways you can help your child?

  • Set goals that are within reach. Your doctor can help set a healthy weight goal for your child.
  • Avoid weight-loss diets. They can affect your child's growth in height.
  • Make healthy changes as a family. Try not to single out your child.
  • Ask your doctor about other health professionals who can help you and your child make healthy changes.
    • A dietitian can suggest new food ideas and help you and your child with healthy eating choices.
    • An exercise specialist can help you and your child find fun ways to be active.
    • A counselor or psychiatrist can help you and your child with any issues that may make it hard to focus on healthy choices. These may include depression, anxiety, stress, or family problems.
  • Try to talk about your child's health, activity level, and other healthy choices. Try not to talk about your weight or your child's weight. The way you talk about your own body or your child's body can really affect how your child feels about themself.
  • Help your child eat well.
    • Eat together as a family as much as possible. Offer the same food choices to the whole family.
    • Keep a regular meal and snack routine. Schedule snacks for when your child is most hungry, such as after school or exercise. This is important because if children skip a meal or snack, they may overeat at the next meal or make unhealthy food choices.
    • Share the responsibility. You decide when, where, and what the family eats. But your child chooses how much, whether, and what to eat from the options you provide. This can help prevent eating problems caused by power struggles.
    • Don't use food as a reward. You want your child to eat healthy food because it's healthy, not so they can have dessert.
    • Try to serve fruits and vegetables at every meal. For example, add some fruit to your child's morning cereal and put sliced vegetables in your child's lunch.
  • Help your child be more active.
    • Move more. Make physical activity a part of your family's daily life. Encourage your child to be active for at least 1 hour every day.
    • Try to make a plan with your child for how long they should use their phone, watch TV, play video games, or use their computer each day. Encourage outdoor play as often as possible if it's safe.

How can you help with social and emotional concerns?

Children who are overweight are at risk of having low self-esteem and depression.footnote 1 You can help your child have greater confidence, health, and self-esteem.

  • Avoid talking about your child's weight.

    Instead, talk in terms of your child's health, activity level, and other healthy lifestyle choices. How you talk about your child's body has a big impact on your child's self-image.

  • Be a good role model.

    Try to keep a healthy attitude about food and activity. Even if you struggle with how you feel about your own body, avoid talking in front of your child about "being fat" and "needing to diet." Work on making the same healthy lifestyle choices you'd like for your child. Talk with them about healthy choices.

  • Encourage activities that your child enjoys.

    Physical activity helps build physical and emotional confidence.footnote 2 Try different types of activities until you find one that your child likes.

  • Encourage social involvement.

    Community, school, and faith activities can help your child practice social skills and build relationships.

  • Help your child eat well.

    Provide healthy food choices. Consider seeing a registered dietitian for help, such as new food ideas.

  • Don't let any child tease another child about their weight.

    Talk to teachers and counselors, if you need to.

References

Citations

  1. Pont SJ, et al. (2017). Stigma experienced by children and adolescents with obesity. Pediatrics, 140(6): e20173034. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2017-3034. Accessed November 2, 2023.
  2. Hampl SE, et al. (2023). Clinical practice guideline for the evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents with obesity. Pediatrics, 151(2): e2022060640. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2022-060640. Accessed March 15, 2023.

Credits

Current as of: May 13, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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