Weight Management for Children
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.
Why is it important for my child to be at a healthy weight?
Your child's risk for health problems is higher is he or she is overweight. These health problems include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. High levels of cholesterol may lead to heart disease later in life. Your child also has a higher risk of being overweight as an adult. Your school-aged child may feel more stress and sadness because he or she is overweight.
What causes children to become overweight?
- Being overweight may run in the family. A child's parents, brothers, or sisters may also be overweight.
- Children may not get enough physical activity. They may spend too much time on the computer, watching television, or playing video games.
- Children may take in too many calories if they regularly eat or drink high-fat and high-sugar foods. Examples of these foods include hamburgers, french fries, potato chips, chocolate bars, soda, and sweetened drinks.
How can I help my child manage his or her weight?
- A healthy meal plan and increased physical activity can help your child reach a healthy weight. The first goal may be for your child to stay at his or her current weight while he or she grows normally in height. Talk to your child's healthcare provider about a weight management plan that is right for him or her.
- Be a positive role model for your child by following a healthy lifestyle. Your child learns from your behavior. Your child will be more likely to make changes if he or she sees you make changes too. The whole family should make these healthy lifestyle changes together. They may help to improve the health of everyone in the family.
How can I help my child follow a healthy meal plan?
- Give your child 3 meals and 1 or 2 snacks each day. Offer your child a variety of healthy foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, and lean protein foods. Do not force your child to eat all the food on his or her plate. Allow your child to decide when he or she is full. This can help your child to learn to stop eating when he or she is full.
- Make sure your family eats breakfast. Skipping breakfast often leads to overeating later in the day. An example of a healthy breakfast would be low-fat milk (1% or skim) with a low-sugar cereal and fruit. Some examples of low-sugar cereals are corn flakes, bran flakes, and oatmeal.
- Pack a healthy 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.
- Make healthy choices for dinner. Make it a habit to add vegetables to your family's 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.
- Decrease calories.
- Cook with less fat. Bake, roast, or poach (cook in simmering liquid) meats instead of frying.
- Limit high-sugar foods. Offer water or low-fat milk instead of soft drinks, fruit juice drinks, and sports drinks. Buy low-sugar cereals and snacks. Ask your healthcare provider for information about reading food labels.
- Keep healthy snacks handy. Some examples include fruits, vegetables, low-fat popcorn, low-fat yogurt, or fat-free pudding.
- Limit meals at fast food restaurants. When you do eat out, choose restaurants with healthier food choices.
What are some other ideas for feeding my child?
- Eat meals together as a family as often as possible. Do not eat while watching TV.
- Do not give your child food as a reward for good behavior. For example, do not promise your child a candy if he or she behaves well at the store.
- Do not keep food from your child because of poor behavior. If the family is having dessert, let your child have it also.
How can I help my child increase his or her physical activity?
- Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. You can help your child get this amount by planning activities for the whole family. Examples include 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 child's screen time. Screen time is the amount of television, computer, smart phone, and video game time your child has each day. It is important to limit screen time. This helps your child get enough sleep, physical activity, and social interaction each day. Your child's pediatrician can help you create a screen time plan. The daily limit is usually 1 hour for children 2 to 5 years. The daily limit is usually 2 hours for children 6 years or older. You can also set limits on the kinds of devices your child can use, and where he or she can use them. Keep the plan where your child and anyone who takes care of him or her can see it. Create a plan for each child in your family. You can also go to https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx#planview for more help creating a plan.
What are other ways I can support my child as we make lifestyle changes?
- Accept and encourage your child. Your child needs support, acceptance, and encouragement from you. Tell your child that he or she has done well when he or she has tried to eat healthier or be more active.
- 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. You then could add a new change each week after that.
- Focus on making lifestyle changes to improve the health of your whole family. Try not to focus these changes on your child because he or she is overweight.
- Teach your child not to use food as a way of handling stress or rewarding success.
Care AgreementYou 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 healthcare providers 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.
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