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Overweight Children

Why are some children overweight?
There are more overweight children today than ever before. Many children eat too many calories from high fat foods, sweets, and large portion sizes. This can cause a child to become moderately to severely overweight. Another reason is lack of exercise. Children today get less exercise than ever before in history. Another cause of kids becoming overweight is genetics. Body shape and weight often run in the family. Children of overweight parents are more likely to be overweight as well. On the positive side, if these children eat healthy diets and are active, they have a much better chance of maintaining a normal weight or being less overweight.

What is the problem with being overweight?
An overweight child has a greater risk of health problems including:

  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • gallbladder disease
  • sleep disorders
  • asthma

Being overweight can also cause your child to be self conscious about his looks or be teased or ignored by classmates. Sometimes the pressure from parents and other adults to lose weight causes children to react too strongly. They may think too much about weight and set the stage for an eating disorder.

Another problem is that overweight children often become overweight adults. Studies show that half of overweight children stay overweight through adulthood. Most overweight teens will also be overweight adults.

Is my child overweight?
Ask your healthcare provider about where your child is on the standard growth chart. These charts can be used along with medical history, family history, and physical appearance to see if your child is at a healthy weight.

The body mass index (BMI) for children is used for ages 2 through 20. These BMI growth charts are specifically designed, (one for boys and one for girls) to check weight through the growing years. BMI changes a lot as children get older and go through growth spurts. Your child is at risk for having problems with weight as an adult if the BMI is in the Overweight or At Risk range. If you or your healthcare provider sees the problem early, you can help prevent future problems with weight gain.

How do I help my child?
Act on the problem as soon as it is noticed and work with your child to follow a healthier lifestyle. Many body types are considered normal and the range for acceptable weights is wide. The concern is when a child is carrying extra body fat for their age. Parents have much control and influence over their children's habits and eating patterns as they grow. If you provide your family with healthy foods and involve yourself and your child in regular physical activity, your kids will also follow these healthy habits.

Some tips to help your child:

  • Be very supportive and give lots of encouragement. Children know when they are overweight and don't want to be nagged about it, especially at home.
  • Make sure your child eats a healthy breakfast every day. Skipping breakfast can leave your child hungry, tired, and looking for less healthy foods later in the day.
  • Eat meals as a family when possible (at the table, not in front of the TV).
  • Encourage everyone to eat slowly and enjoy the conversation as well as the food.
  • If the family eats quickly, try salad with low-fat dressing and homemade vegetable soups as appetizers to help curb hunger and gobbling of food.
  • Involve your children with meal planning and writing grocery lists. This helps them learn and they can make their own decisions about foods. Buy and serve more fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned). Let your child choose them at the store. If choosing canned goods, look for those lower in salt and sugar. Buy fewer soft drinks and snack foods like chips, cookies, and candy that are high in fat and calories.
  • Don't use food as a reward or withhold food as punishment. Children should not be put on a strict diet unless under the care of a healthcare provider or dietitian for medical reasons. A diet that is too strict can interfere with normal growth.
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand.
  • Plan activities that include exercise, such as skating, biking, running, or walking. 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 5 to 10 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.
  • Give your child active chores, such as washing the car, vacuuming, or cleaning windows.
  • Set strict limits on TV time. Children who watch more than a few hours of television a day are much more likely to be overweight.
  • Most children like learning on the computer. Although too much computer time is not good, you will find there are kid friendly web sites and programs that provide fun ideas to get your kids moving and eating healthier.

If after making changes to diet and exercise, your child is still gaining weight, tell your healthcare provider. Although rare, your provider will want to check other possible reasons for your child being overweight.