Home > Health Library > Helping the Overweight Child
"Overweight" and "at
risk of overweight" are terms sometimes used when referring to children who
weigh more than expected. Doctors use the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention growth charts or the
body mass index (BMI) to measure a child's weight in
relation to his or her height. To find out your child's BMI, use this
Interactive Tool: Is Your Child at a Healthy Weight?
If you have concerns that your child is
overweight or at risk of becoming so, first ask your
doctor to review your child's growth charts and medical history with
Sometimes a child's BMI and weight can increase without a
child being at risk of having too much body fat. For instance, before and
during puberty it is normal for children to have a significant gain in weight
before they begin to grow in height. Also, children who are very muscular (such
as children who are very active in sports), may have a high BMI but have normal
or even lower-than-normal amounts of body fat.
If your child's BMI
and growth pattern suggest a weight problem, your doctor will give your child
an exam that looks for health problems that can cause weight gain. This may
include questions about
eating and physical activity habits. Regular checkups
for health problems will also be important over time.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Your job is to offer nutritious food
choices at meals and snack times. You decide what,
where, and when your family eats. Your child's job is
to choose how much he or she will eat of the foods you serve. Your
child even gets to decide whether to eat.
restrict food. Food restriction causes children to ignore their internal hunger
gauges. Children who have their food restricted often end up heavier, because
they become anxious about food and eating. Anxiety about not getting enough to
eat will often lead a child to overeat whenever he or she gets a chance. This
causes the child to become less in touch with how hungry or full he or she is,
and the child becomes more likely to eat more than his or her body needs. This
can also happen when children or teens follow weight-loss diets. It doesn't
work to put a child on a diet-you get the opposite effect.
attention to behaviors that may be adding to weight gain, and then work to
correct them. Then trust that your child will end up at the weight that is right
for him or her.
If you are concerned about your child's weight,
talk to your child's doctor. He or she can tell you if your child is gaining
weight too quickly and can give you steps to take to help your child have a
As a parent, your job
is to give your child the tools for a healthy lifestyle and remain as relaxed
as possible about the result.
To help your overweight child eat
well, use the same healthy eating approach with everyone in your family:
To help your overweight child develop a balance between
the calories he or she takes in and burns off:
As for any child with health concerns, make sure your
child has all of the well-child checkups and treatment that your doctor
It doesn't take long for children to figure out that our culture and
their peers idealize thinness. Children who
are overweight are especially at risk of being teased and feeling alone. This
can cause low self-esteem and
For information about
helping a child who is being teased, see the topic
To help your child
have greater health, confidence, and self-esteem, you can:
Committee on Nutrition, American Academy of Pediatrics
(2003, reaffirmed 2007). Policy statement: Prevention of
pediatric overweight and obesity. Pediatrics, 112(2):
July 31, 2013
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
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