If you have a child who is overweight, you have probably asked yourself “How can I help my overweight child?” or other versions of that question. This article tells you how!
If you have an overweight child, or even if you are an overweight child, I’ve been there, and can help. This article will show you the ways that I lost over 70 pounds in 8 months.
How Can I Help My Overweight Child
As a parent, it can sometimes be difficult to tell that your child is overweight. A child may not look particularly heavy to be overweight.
And because more children are becoming heavier at a younger age, we have become used to seeing bigger children.
Research shows children who achieve a healthy weight tend to be fitter, healthier, better able to learn, and more self-confident.
They’re also less likely to have low self-esteem or be bullied. And they’re much less likely to have health problems in later life.
As a parent, there’s lots you can do to help your child become a healthier weight. Getting them to be more active and eat well is important.
Here’s lots of practical advice to help you.
If your child has a medical condition, the advice in this article may not be relevant and you should check with a GP or hospital doctor first.
Steps for success
Here are 5 key ways you can help your child maintain a healthy weight:
- be a good role model
- encourage 60 minutes, and up to several hours, of physical activity a day
- keep to child-sized portions
- eat healthy meals, drinks and snacks
- less screen time and more sleep
Be a good role model
One way to instil good habits in your child is for you to be a good role model. Children learn by example.
You can encourage your child to be active and eat well by doing so yourself.
Set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride instead of watching TV or surfing the internet.
Playing in the park or swimming with your children shows them being active is fun, and it’s a great way for you all to spend time together.
Any changes you make to your child’s diet and lifestyle are much more likely to be accepted if the changes are small and involve the whole family.
Physical activity also may be more appealing to your child if you do something as a family.
Overweight children don’t need to do more exercise than slimmer children. Their extra body weight means they’ll naturally burn more calories for the same activity.
All children should aim to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day for good health, but it doesn’t need to be all at once.
Several short 10-minute, or even 5-minute, bursts of activity throughout the day can be just as good as an hour-long stretch.
For younger children, it can take the form of active play, such as ball games, chasing games like “it” and “tag”, riding a scooter, and using playground swings, climbing frames and see-saws.
For older children it could include riding a bike, skateboarding, walking to school, skipping, swimming, dancing and martial arts.
Walking or cycling short distances instead of using the car or bus is a great way to be active together as a family. And you’ll save money, too.
Try to avoid feeding your child oversized portions. There’s very little official guidance on precisely how much food children require, so you’ll need to use your own judgement.
A good rule of thumb is to start meals with small servings and let your child ask for more if they’re still hungry.
Try not to make your child finish everything on the plate or eat more than they want to.
And avoid using adult-size plates for younger children as it encourages them to eat oversized portions.
It may also help if you encourage your child to eat slowly and have set mealtimes. You can use mealtimes as an opportunity to catch up on what’s happened during the day.
Explain to your child how to get the balance of their diet right using the Eatwell Guide. It shows how much they should eat from each food group.
Read more about what counts as a balanced diet.
Knowing the calorie content of foods can be useful.
Eat healthy meals
Children, just like adults, should aim to eat 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables every day. They’re a great source of fibre and vitamins and minerals.
Getting 5 A Day shouldn’t be too difficult. Almost all fruit and vegetables count towards your child’s 5 A Day, including fresh, tinned, frozen and dried.
Juices, smoothies, beans and pulses also count.
Be aware that unsweetened 100% fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies can only ever count as a maximum of 1 portion of their 5 A Day.
For example, if they have 2 glasses of fruit juice and a smoothie in 1 day, that still only counts as 1 portion.
Their combined total of drinks from fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies shouldn’t be more than 150ml a day, which is a small glass.
For example, if they have 150ml of orange juice and a 150ml smoothie in 1 day, they’ll have exceeded the recommendation by 150ml.
When fruit is blended or juiced, it releases the sugars, which increases the risk of tooth decay. So it’s best to drink fruit juice or smoothies at mealtimes.
Discourage your child from having sugary or high-fat foods like sweets, cakes, biscuits, some sugary cereals, and sugar-sweetened soft and fizzy drinks. These foods and drinks tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients.
Aim for your child to get most of their calories from healthier foods like fruit and vegetables, and starchy foods like bread, potatoes, pasta and rice (preferably wholemeal). And switch sweetened soft drinks for water.
How to Help a Child Who Is Overweight
Obesity is a critical and growing health problem in the U.S., and it starts at a young age. One in every 6 children and teenagers is obese (18.5 percent). That’s more than three times the rate found in the early 1970s.
Most of us are aware of the health risks that come with obesity — high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of heart disease. Obesity is also associated with sleep problems, asthma and type 2 diabetes. And being overweight can lead to children being bullied and suffering from depression.
With all of those health and emotional concerns, it can be upsetting to be told by a doctor that your child is overweight or obese. What should you do? How should you talk with your child?
We spoke with Saba Khan, MD, attending physician in the Healthy Weight Program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), the CHOP Care Network, and Director of CHOP’s Food Pharmacy, to learn what works and what doesn’t in helping overweight children make changes to reach a healthy weight.
Make healthy lifestyle changes as a family
When parents ask “How do I help my child lose weight?” Dr. Khan emphasizes healthy lifestyles. She doesn’t talk about diet or exercise. The goal is to build a foundation of heathy eating and activity that lasts forever, that’s enjoyable and becomes part of how we live.
“The first thing to be aware of is that children are still growing,” says Dr. Khan. “They have height and healthy weight to gain, so simple lifestyle changes can allow their bodies to catch up with their weight.”
She also presents these lifestyle changes as a challenge and an opportunity for the whole family. “You can’t see it as just the child’s issue,” she says. “When you respond as a family, it gives everyone a chance to become healthier together. When everyone commits to making changes, it can be a very positive thing.”
Keep the message positive
Positive emotions are critical to success when it comes to dealing with weight. Eating is a social habit. When we find that we are doing solitary eating, it’s almost always because we’re compensating for emotional needs. We’re not eating from hunger. We’re eating because we’re tired, angry, sad or anxious. So it’s very important not to isolate or stigmatize the child. That would be counter-productive.
In fact, Dr. Khan encourages parents not to weigh their child. “You don’t want the child to feel judged by their weight. You want them to feel the positive changes in other ways. They’ll feel it in their energy level, in how they can run on a playing field.”
When parents ask how to talk to their kids about weight, Dr. Khan steers them toward different ways to discuss the topic.
“Don’t talk about their weight,” she says. “Instead let them know that you will be helping them make changes to feel stronger, to have more energy. I tell them, ‘Your outsides are healthy the way you are. We want to make you feel better on the inside.’ And never comment on the child’s eating — or anyone else’s. Just start making healthy changes as a family, with the adults modeling those changes for the children.”
Make changes in small steps
Dr. Khan encourages small steps that families can build on, rather than big changes they can’t sustain.
“What do you do well together?” she asks. “How are you spending time together? Start with those positive aspects of your family life and build on them in small ways.”
If you eat together with the TV on, turn it off and talk to each other. Ask everyone in the family to share one interesting thing about their day. Having a conversation will slow down your eating and make you pay more attention to your food.
If you watch movies together, take 20 or 30 minutes you might spend doing that and instead put on some happy music and dance together. Be silly and have fun. Get glow sticks and dance in the dark.
“The key is to make these changes in small, progressive steps together,” Dr. Khan says. “Once you’ve got one step down, don’t lose it. Commit to it. Then take another.”
As a next step, consider the food you eat, and what’s available in the house for meals and snacks. If you’re buying sweetened beverages and packaged foods, start replacing some of that with fresh fruits and vegetables and unsweetened seltzer.
There’s no need to cut out fattening foods completely, but turn those into an occasional treat, not an everyday item. Instead of keeping ice cream in the freezer, you might go out for ice cream cones as a family for a special treat.
As you all start eating healthier food and becoming more active, you’ll start feeling healthier and having fun at the same time. Thank your child for inspiring those healthy changes. And tell your child how proud you are of their progress.