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Helping Your Child Who Is Overweight

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Helping Your Child Who Is Overweight


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 his or her height.

If you are concerned that your child is—or could become—overweight, talk with your doctor about your child's growth and medical history.

Your 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 at emotional causes, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
  • 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. A healthy diet and more exercise can help your child have better health and more energy so that your child 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. Change takes time. Start by making small changes in eating habits and exercise as a family. Weight loss diets aren't recommended for most children. The best way to help your child stay at a healthy weight is to increase your child's activity level.

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 possible. Your doctor can help set a good weight goal.
  • 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 or personal trainer 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, or family problems.
  • Try to talk about your child's health, activity level, and other healthy choices. Try not to talk about your child's weight. The way you talk about your child's body can really affect how your child feels about their body.

To 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. Don't snack all day. 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 to reward your child for doing a good job or for eating all of their green beans. You want your child to eat healthy food because it's healthy, not so they can eat dessert.
  • Serve fruits and vegetables at every meal. You can add some fruit to your child's morning cereal and put sliced vegetables in your child's lunch.

To 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.
  • Keep total TV and computer time to less than 2 hours each day. Encourage outdoor play as often as possible.

How can you help with social and emotional concerns?

Children who are overweight are especially at risk of being teased and feeling alone. This can cause low self-esteem and depression.

You can help your child have greater health, confidence, 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.

    Have 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." 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 you find one that your child likes. Theater can help children find strength and confidence, even if they don't feel it at first.

  • Encourage social involvement.

    Community, church, and school activities build social skills and confidence.

  • Help your child eat well.

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

  • Don't let a child tease another child about weight.

    Talk to teachers and counselors, if you need to.


Current as of: May 14, 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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