What To Do If Child Is Overweight

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You’re done reading “what to do if your child is overweight”. I’ve compiled a list of ways you can start teaching your kids about healthy living. The goal is to get them to eat healthier, exercise more and make sure they are getting proper rest.

As parents, we want the best for our children, so if your child is overweight, you’re probably trying to figure out what you can do about it. I was once in your shoes, and I know how stressful it can be feeling helpless about a situation.

What To  Do If Child Is Overweight?

Overweight children may be at risk for a variety of health problems. Reach out to your child's pediatrician if they are overweight or obese for help developing a diet and weight loss plan.

Overweight children may be at risk for a variety of health problems. Reach out to your child’s pediatrician if they are overweight or obese for help developing a diet and weight loss plan.

Like adults, overweight children can be at risk for a diversity of medical conditions. It is important, though, children’s bodies are still growing and developing. Young people are vulnerable to dangerous messaging about body image and eating habits. Help your child learn healthy attitudes about food, exercise, and body image that they can carry into adulthood.

Only a doctor can diagnose a child as overweight. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, consult with their doctor. If your child’s doctor has determined that they are overweight, there are ways that you can help your child reach a healthy weight.

Is my child overweight?

Childhood obesity is a significant problem in the United States. According to the CDC, obesity affects 1 in 5 children in the United States. Recent studies indicate that this rate has more than tripled in the past 30 years.

Because developing children are still growing in many ways, doctors have a complex system to assess whether or not a child is overweight.

Some doctors rely on growth charts developed by the CDC. These place children into general categories based on their percentile in height and weight:

  • Below  5th Percentile — Underweight
  • 5th Percentile to 85th Percentile — Healthy Weight
  • 85th Percentile to 95th Percentile — Overweight
  • 95th Percentile or Greater — Obese

If your child’s doctor performs an assessment and determines that your child falls above the 85th percentile in weight, they may be overweight or obese. If so, you can help. Just remember, a child should never be placed on any kind of diet or weight loss plan without the guidance of a doctor.

What are the risks for an overweight child?

Obesity can cause problems at any age. Overweight and obese children are at elevated risk for:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Bone and Joint Problems
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Asthma
  • Poor Quality Sleep
  • Liver and Gallbladder Disease
  • Heart Disease
  • Mental Health Problems (including low self-esteem, social anxiety, and depression)
  • Substance Abuse
  • Eating Disorders

What causes overweight and obesity in children?

There are many reasons a child may become overweight or obese. While some factors can be controlled through healthy choices, some require a doctor’s help.

Medical Conditions. Children’s weight can be impacted by certain medical conditions. Thyroid disorders can cause a child to gain weight, as can some genetic syndromes. If your child’s overweight or obesity is caused by a medical issue, a doctor can help you find a treatment plan that works.

Medications. Certain medications can cause weight gain. Talk to your child’s doctor about whether their weight may be related to their medications.

Behavioral Factors. Large amounts of time in front of screens and little time on physical activity can contribute to unhealthy weight. Large portions of calorie-rich and nutrient-poor foods can also lead to obesity.

Environmental Factors. If a child lives in an area with few or no safe opportunities for physical activity they may be more likely to be overweight or obese.

Genetic Influence. If one (or both) parents are overweight or obese, a child is more statistically more likely to be overweight also.

How can I help my child maintain a healthy weight?

Fortunately, there are many ways a parent or caregiver can help a child maintain a healthy weight and a positive body image.

Develop healthy eating habits. The CDC recommends keeping plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain products easily available. Low-fat milk or dairy products are great choices, too. Lean meats, poultry, fish, and beans provide excellent protein. Limiting sugary drinks, sweet foods, and foods with saturated fat is a good plan.

Make staying active fun. Regular activity, according to the CDC, not only helps promote healthy weight, but also strengthens bones, decreases blood pressure, reduces stress, and increases self-esteem in children. Give your child access to fun physical activity through sports, classes, games, and plenty of outside time at parks or playgrounds. Other fun activities include hiking, swimming, and biking.

Get plenty of sleep. Studies have demonstrated a link between getting plenty of high-quality sleep and having a healthy body weight. Make sure your child is going to bed and waking up at a reasonable time, and not disrupting their sleep quality with sugar, caffeine, or screens too late in the day.

Healthy weight, happy child

Helping your child develop healthy eating and exercise habits is about much more than maintaining an ideal weight. It’s the opportunity to set them up for a lifetime of good health and a positive sense of self-esteem and body image. The benefits are long-lasting.

If you are concerned about your child’s weight, lifestyle habits, or body image, the first step is to contact your child’s doctor. Only a medical professional can determine if your child is overweight or obese. They can assess whether the cause is lifestyle-related or caused by an underlying condition.

Based on your child’s doctor’s diagnosis and advice, you can work together to make the healthiest choices for your child.

Helping an overweight child

I think my child might be overweight. How can I tell if it’s a problem?

Carrying extra weight can put your child at risk for health problems like heart disease and diabetes now and in the future. Don’t get too worried if your child is a little chunky at this age, but do talk with his doctor about your concerns. She can help you determine whether your child’s weight is a problem that you should start addressing now.

Keep in mind that while being chubby as a child can predict being overweight as an adult, it can also be just a stage, especially at your child’s age. So even though your preschooler may seem a little heavy to you, as his body changes in the next few years, he may take on a leaner look. Children tend to grow into their weight — that is, they generally thin out as they become taller. (They don’t stop gaining weight altogether, of course, but ideally their height catches up and the two become proportional.)

Your preschooler is more likely to “outgrow” being overweight than an adolescent is. Still, if your child was severely overweight as a toddler, and still is as a preschooler, his chances of remaining overweight increase, says Nancy F. Krebs, M.D., professor of pediatrics and co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Task Force on Obesity.

How will the doctor determine whether my child is overweight?

Your child’s doctor will measure his height and weight and plot these numbers on a growth chart. Doctors today are using a new series of growth charts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that take into consideration a child’s body mass index, or BMI, which indicates whether his height and weight are proportional. The BMI is a better indicator of whether your child is carrying too much body fat than a weight measurement alone. While the BMI of an adult is calculated with a straight formula, children’s BMIs are based on gender and age, to allow for the change in body composition that happens as a child gets older.

Like a standard growth chart, your child will be ranked in percentiles compared to his peers. If your child’s BMI is in the 85th percentile — meaning it’s higher than that of 85 percent of children his age and gender — he would be considered overweight. If he’s in the 95th percentile, he’s considered obese.

In addition to your child’s height and weight, his doctor will factor in how much his parents weigh, how long he’s been heavy, and his overall health.

If my child is overweight, what can I do about it?

Doctors don’t usually recommend restrictive diets or weight loss programs for children, as they’re necessary only in extreme cases. In fact, a restrictive diet can be harmful to a child’s health and interfere with his growth and development if it’s not carefully monitored. In most cases, the goal is to maintain the child’s weight with a healthy diet so that as he grows his weight will be more proportional to his height.

Ask your doctor for suggestions on how you can help your child develop healthy eating habits. She may suggest that you follow the Food Guide Pyramid, which advises offering your child three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day, in addition to servings of whole grains, milk, and meat. Of course, you’ll want to limit sweets and other high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. The doctor may also recommend that you consult a registered dietitian to help you create a balanced eating plan for your child.

Keep in mind that if the whole family is eating healthy foods for each meal and snack (and enjoying plenty of exercise), your preschooler will find it much easier to do the same.

Help your child steer clear of these bad habits, all of which can cause him to gain weight:

  • Unsupervised snacking. Limit or eliminate choices like cookies and chips, and replace them with healthy options like fresh fruits and vegetables and low-fat puddings, yogurts, and cheeses. Make sure your child isn’t grazing all day, either, even on healthy foods.
  • Eating while watching television. A child who’s distracted may not recognize when he’s full. Help your child learn to listen to his body’s signals to tell him when he’s had enough.
  • Consuming excessive amounts of soda or juice. Save soda and other sweet beverages for special occasions, if you serve them at all. Fruit juice does count as a serving of fruit, but too much juice can fill your child up so that he won’t be hungry at mealtime for the other nourishing foods he needs. Limit juice based on these recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Indulging in vending-machine food. Most vending-machine food isn’t very nutritious. If your child is going to be out and about at snack time, pack something healthy for him.
  • Spending too much time in front of the TV or computer. Kids can get sucked into sitting still for hours. In addition, TV advertisements encourage the consumption of high-calorie, nutrient-poor “junk” foods. To encourage physical activity, keep TVs out of children’s bedrooms.
  • Eating too much at meals. See our expert’s advice on how to handle overeating.

Instead of nagging or ridiculing your child about his weight, which is likely to make him resentful and rebellious, give him the opportunity to choose healthy foods and activities, and praise him for it when he does. And don’t forget to set a good example by eating well yourself. “Especially for young children, the importance of parents’ modeling healthy eating and healthy lifestyles can’t be overemphasized,” says Krebs. “Children learn what they see!”

Don’t start subjecting your child to regular weigh-ins at home, either — they can become a source of anxiety. However, if your child’s BMI is above the 95th percentile, your doctor may ask to see him once a month to monitor his progress. Just treat these visits like any other trip to the doctor, and don’t make a big deal about the weigh-in process. Keep the focus on developing healthy habits, rather than on your child’s weight.

How can I encourage my child to become more active?

Exercise is a key component of weight maintenance, and many kids don’t get enough of it. The 2000 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommend at least 60 minutes of activity per day for kids — ideally, done with their parents. Instead of settling on the couch after dinner, encourage your family to take a walk or bike ride together. Try in-line skating or dancing. And look for ways to be more active throughout the day — by walking or biking instead of driving, for instance, or by taking the stairs instead of the elevator. For most children, encouraging more time outdoors is all it takes to get them to have more active playtime.

What if my child remains overweight as he grows up?

You can help improve your child’s future by showing him how to eat better and become more active now. This will boost his chances of heading off a weight problem and growing into a healthy adult. Even if he never achieves a “normal” weight, he’ll be healthier if he eats well and is active.

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