Helping Your Overweight Child
Healthy eating and physical activity habits are key to your child's well-being. Eating too much and exercising too little can lead to overweight and related health problems that can follow children into their adult years. You can take an active role in helping your child—your whole family—healthy eating and physical activity habits that can last for a lifetime.
Is my child overweight?
Children grow at different rates at different times, so it is not always easy to tell if a child is overweight. If you think that your child is overweight, talk to your health care provider. He or she can tell you if your child's weight and height are in a healthy range.
How can I help my overweight child?
Involve the whole family in building healthy eating and physical activity habits. It benefits everyone and does not single out the child who is overweight.
Do not put your child on a weight-loss diet unless your health care provider tells you to. If children do not eat enough, they may not grow and learn as well as they should.
- Tell your child that he or she is loved, is special, and is important. Children's feelings about themselves often are based on their parents' feelings about them.
- Accept your child at any weight. Children will be more likely to accept and feel good about themselves when their parents accept them.
- Listen to your child's concerns about his or her weight. Overweight children probably know better than anyone else that they have a weight problem. They need support, understanding, and encouragement from parents.
Encourage healthy habits
- Buy and serve more fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned, or dried). Let your child choose them at the store.
- Buy fewer soft drinks and high-fat or high-calorie snack foods like chips, cookies, and candy. These snacks may be OK once in a while, but always keep healthy snack foods on hand. Offer the healthy snacks more often at snack times.
- Make sure your child eats breakfast every day. Breakfast may provide your child with the energy he or she needs to listen and learn in school. Skipping breakfast can leave your child hungry, tired, and looking for less healthy foods later in the day.
- Eat fast food less often. When you do visit a fast food restaurant, encourage your family to choose the healthier options, such as salads with low-fat dressing or small sandwiches without cheese or mayonnaise.
- Offer your child water or low-fat milk more often than fruit juice. Low-fat milk and milk products are important for your child's development. One hundred percent fruit juice is a healthy choice but is high in calories.
- Limit the amount of saturated and trans fats in your family's diet. Instead, obtain most of your fats from sources such as fish, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
- Plan healthy meals and eat together as a family. Eating together at meal times helps children learn to enjoy a variety of foods.
- Do not get discouraged if your child will not eat a new food the first time it is served. Some kids will need to have a new food served to them 10 times or more before they will eat it.
- Try not to use food as a reward when encouraging kids to eat. Promising dessert to a child for eating vegetables, for example, sends the message that vegetables are less valuable than dessert. Kids learn to dislike foods they think are less valuable.
- Start with small servings and let your child ask for more if he or she is still hungry. It is up to you to provide your child with healthy meals and snacks, but your child should be allowed to choose how much food he or she will eat.
- Be aware that some high-fat or high-sugar foods and beverages may be strongly marketed to kids. Usually these products are associated with cartoon characters, offer free toys, and come in bright packages. Talk with your child about the importance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy foods - even if these foods are not often advertised on TV or in stores.
Healthy Snack Ideas
Your child might enjoy trying the following foods:
- Fresh fruit.
- Fruit canned in juice or light syrup.
- Small amounts of dried fruits, such as raisins, apple rings, or apricots.
- Fresh vegetables, such as baby carrots, cucumber, zucchini, or tomatoes.
- Low-sugar, whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk.
Foods that are small, round, sticky, or hard to chew, such as raisins, whole grapes, hard vegetables, hard chunks of cheese, nuts, seeds, and popcorn, can cause choking in children under age 4. You can still prepare some of these foods for young children, for example, by cutting grapes into small pieces and cooking and cutting up vegetables. Always watch your toddler during meals and snacks.
Encourage physical activity
Like adults, kids need daily physical activity. Here are some ways to help your child move every day:
- Set a good example. If your children see that you are physically active and have fun, they are more likely to be active and stay active throughout their lives.
- Encourage your child to join a sports team or class, such as soccer, dance, basketball, or gymnastics at school or at your local community or recreation center.
- Be sensitive to your child's needs. If your child feels uncomfortable participating in activities like sports, help him or her find physical activities that are fun and not embarrassing.
- Be active together as a family. Assign active chores such as making the beds, washing the car, or vacuuming. Plan active outings such as a trip to the zoo or a walk through a local park.
Because his or her body is not ready yet, do not encourage your pre-adolescent child to participate in adult-style physical activity such as long jogs, using an exercise bike or treadmill, or lifting heavy weights. FUN physical activities are best for kids.
Kids need a total of about 60 minutes of physical activity a day, but this does not have to be all at one time. Short 10- or even 5-minute bouts of activity throughout the day are just as good. If your children are not used to being active, encourage them to start with what they can do and build up to 60 minutes a day.
FUN physical activities for your child to try
- Riding a bike
- Climbing on a jungle gym
- Jumping rope
- Playing hopscotch
- Bouncing a ball
- Playing catch
Discourage inactive pasttimes
- Set limits on the amount of time your family spends watching TV, playing video games, and being on the computer
- Help your child find FUN things to do besides watching TV, like acting out favorite books or stories, or doing a family art project. Your child may find that creative play is more interesting than television.
- Encourage your child to get up and move during commercials and discourage snacking when the TV is on.
Be a positive role model
Children are good learners and they learn what they see. Choose healthy foods and active pastimes for yourself. Your children will see that they can follow healthy habits that last a lifetime.