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As a parent or other caregiver, you can do a lot to help your child reach and maintain a healthy weight. Staying active and consuming healthy foods and beverages are important for your child's well-being. You can take an active role in helping your child—and your whole family—learn habits that may improve health.
Being able to tell whether a child is overweight is not always easy. Children grow at different rates and at different times. Also, the amount of a child’s body fat changes with age and differs between girls and boys.
One way to tell if your child is overweight is to calculate his or her body mass index (BMI). BMI is a measure of body weight relative to height. The BMI calculator uses a formula that produces a score often used to tell whether a person is underweight, a normal weight, overweight, or obese. The BMI of children is age- and sex-specific and known as the “BMI-for-age.”
BMI-for-age uses growth charts created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Doctors use these charts to track a child’s growth. The charts use a number called a percentile to show how your child's BMI compares with the BMI of other children. The main BMI categories for children and teens are
You should be concerned if your child has extra weight because weighing too much may increase the chances that your child will develop health problems now or later in life.
In the short run, for example, he or she may have breathing problems or joint pain, making it hard to keep up with friends. Some children may develop health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Some children also may experience teasing, bullying, depression, or low self-esteem.
Children who are overweight are at higher risk of entering adulthood with too much weight. The chances of developing health problems such as heart disease and certain types of cancer are higher among adults with too much weight.
BMI is a screening tool and does not directly measure body fat or an individual child’s risk of health problems. If you are concerned about your child's weight, talk with your child’s doctor or other health care professional. He or she can check your child's overall health and growth over time and tell you if weight management may be helpful. Many children who are still growing in length don’t need to lose weight; they may need to decrease the amount of weight they gain while they grow taller. Don't put your child on a weight-loss diet unless your child’s doctor tells you to.
You can play an important role in helping your child build healthy eating, drinking, physical activity, and sleep habits. For instance, teach your child about balancing the amount of food and beverages he or she eats and drinks with his or her amount of daily physical activity. Take your child grocery shopping and let him or her choose healthy foods and drinks, and help plan and prepare healthy meals and snacks. The 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines explain the types of foods and beverages to include in a healthy eating plan.
Here are some other ways to help your child develop healthy habits:
Besides consuming fewer foods, drinks, and snacks that are high in calories, fat, sugar, and salt, you may get your child to eat healthier by offering these options more often:
You also may help your child eat better by trying to
To help your child develop a healthy attitude toward food and eating:
To help your child eat less candy, cookies, and other unhealthy snacks, try these healthier snack options instead:
Try to make physical activity fun for your child. Children need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day, although the activity doesn't have to be all at once. Several short 10- or even 5-minute spurts of activity throughout the day are just as good. If your child is not used to being active, encourage him or her to start out slowly and build up to 60 minutes a day.
To encourage daily physical activity:
If you have tried to change your family's eating, drinking, physical activity, and sleep habits and your child has not reached a healthy weight, ask your child’s health care professional about other options. He or she may be able to recommend a plan for healthy eating and physical activity, or refer you to a weight-management specialist, registered dietitian, or program. Your local hospital, a community health clinic, or health department also may offer weight-management programs for children and teens or information about where you can enroll in one.
When choosing a weight-management program for your child, look for a program that
You can help your child by being positive and supportive throughout any process or program you choose to help him or her achieve a healthy weight. Help your child set specific goals and track progress. Reward successes with praise and hugs.
Tell your child that he or she is loved, special, and important. Children's feelings about themselves are often based on how they think their parents and other caregivers feel about them.
Listen to your child's concerns about his or her weight. He or she needs support, understanding, and encouragement from caring adults.
Clinical trials are research studies involving people of all ages. Clinical trials look at safe and effective new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to look at other aspects of care, such as improving quality of life. Research involving children helps scientists
Clinical trials that are currently open and are recruiting can be viewed at www.ClinicalTrials.gov.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
The NIDDK would like to thank:
Elsie Taveras, M.D., Chief, Division of General Academic Pediatrics, MassGeneral Hospital for Children