Weight Management For Children

Why is it important for my child to be at a normal weight?

  • Weighing too much is not good for your child's health. Being overweight increases your child's risk of having health problems such as type 2 diabetes (deye-ah-BEE-teez) and high blood cholesterol (koh-LES-ter-ol). Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood. High levels of cholesterol may lead to heart disease. Being overweight may also lead to high blood pressure and heart problems later in life. Your child also has a higher risk of being overweight as an adult.

  • Your school-age child may feel more stress and sadness because he is overweight. Your child may also have a low self-esteem (feel bad about himself). Sometimes children who are overweight are criticized (judged), teased, or treated differently by others.

What causes children to become overweight?

Children usually become overweight because of several reasons. The most common reasons that children become overweight are:

  • Being overweight may run in the family. A child's parents, relatives, brothers or sisters may also be overweight.

  • Children may not get enough physical activity. Children may, instead, spend too much time watching television (TV), playing video games, or spending time on the computer.

  • Regularly eating or drinking high-fat and high-sugar foods may cause children to take in too many calories. Examples of high-fat or high-sugar foods are hamburgers, french fries, potato chips, chocolate bars, soda, and sweetened drinks.

How can I help my child manage his weight?

  • Lifestyle changes such as increasing physical activity and eating healthy foods can help your child reach a normal weight. Usually your child will not need to be on a diet or lose weight. The first goal may be for your child to maintain (stay at) his current weight while growing normally in height. Talk to your caregiver about a weight management plan that is right for your child.

  • The whole family should make these lifestyle changes together. These changes may improve the health of your whole family. Involving the family in making these changes may also help your child not to feel singled out.

  • Be a role model to your child. Your child learns from your behavior. Your child will be more likely to make changes if he sees you make changes too.

How can I help my child follow a healthy diet?

  • Give your child three meals, and one or two snacks per day. Offer your child a variety of foods such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy foods, lean meats, and beans. Do not force your child to eat all the food on his plate. Allow your child to decide when he is full. This may help your child to learn to stop eating when he is full.

  • Make sure your family eats breakfast. Skipping breakfast often leads to overeating later in the day. Serve low-fat milk (one percent or skim) with a low sugar cereal. Some examples of low sugar cereals are corn flakes, bran flakes, and oatmeal.

  • For lunch, pack baby carrots or pretzels instead of potato chips in your child's lunch box. You can also add fruit, low-fat pudding, or low-fat yogurt instead of cookies.

  • For dinner, make it a habit to add vegetables to your meals. Serve low-fat protein foods such as chicken or turkey without skin, lean red meat or legumes (beans or split peas). Some dessert ideas include fruit dishes, low-fat ice cream or angel food cake with fresh strawberries.

  • Below are some ways your family can cut down on calories:

    • Cook with less fat. Bake, roast or poach (cook in simmering liquid) foods instead of frying.

    • Limit the amount of sugar in your child's diet. Offer water or low-fat milk instead of soft drinks, fruit juice drinks and sports drinks. Buy low-sugar cereals and snacks. Ask your caregiver for information about reading food labels.

    • Keep healthy snacks in the house such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat popcorn, low-fat yogurt or fat-free pudding.

    • Eat out at fast-food restaurants less often. When you do eat out, choose restaurants with healthier food choices.

  • Do not be too strict with your child's diet. Fast-foods and sweets can still be eaten, but they should be eaten less often and in smaller amounts.

What are some other ideas for feeding my child?

  • Eat meals together as a family as often as possible. Avoid eating in front of the TV.

  • Avoid giving your child food as a reward for good behavior. For example, do not promise your child a candy if he behaves well at the store.

  • Avoid keeping food from your child because of poor behavior. For example, if the family is having dessert, let your child have it also, even though he may have misbehaved.

How can I help my child increase his physical activity?

  • Children need about one hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Plan activities for the whole family such as skating, hiking or biking. You can also plan a regular walk after dinner for the whole family. Involve your child in other physical activities such as washing the car, gardening and shoveling snow.

  • Limit your family's TV, video game and computer time. Decrease time spent watching TV to less than two hours each day.

How can I support my child as we make lifestyle changes?

  • Accept and encourage your child. Your child needs support, acceptance and encouragement from you. Tell him that he has done well when he has tried to eat healthier or be more active. Tell your child that you still accept and care for him when he is having trouble making changes.

  • It may be too hard for your child to make too many changes all at once. Try making only a few changes at a time. For example, during one week, you could serve a healthy breakfast and take daily walks with your child. In the following weeks, you could add a new change each week.

  • Focus on making lifestyle changes to improve the health of your whole family. Try not to focus these changes on your child because he is overweight.

  • Teach your child not to use food as a way of handling stress or success.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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