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Categories > Children’s Health > Nutrition and weight management

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Is your child overweight?
Learn how to recognize a problem and take action

» When is heavy too heavy?

» Why worry?

» Shaping up

Good food tips

  • Keep only healthy snacks in the house, like cut-up fruits and vegetables; low-fat cheese, yogurt or ice cream; frozen fruit juice bars; and lower-fat cookies such as fig bars, graham crackers, gingersnaps or vanilla wafers.
  • Limit fast foods and overly processed foods, which contain a lot of hidden fat and salt.
  • Have kids eat what you eat, though do your best to respect their tastes. As often as possible, eat as a family.
  • Approach meals creatively. If they love vegetable soup, serve it for breakfast.
  • Don’t serve dessert every night. Save it for special occasions.

Fitness finesse

  • Get kids moving. Children need to move every day, so build physical activity into their normal routines.
  • Join in. It’s always more fun when grown-ups are running around, too, and you’re setting a good example that exercise is enjoyable.
  • Take long, brisk walks. Let your kids pick a neighborhood to explore or a trail to hike and off you all go!
  • Keep jump ropes, hula hoops and balls on hand. These toys never go out of style, are fun and inexpensive and can be played with almost anywhere.
  • Get kids to pitch in. Household chores—gardening, vacuuming, bringing in the groceries, walking the dog—are subtle ways to increase exercise and get some help!
  • Turn off the TV, computer and video games. Encourage your kids to find physical activities they enjoy.

Work with your schools about teaching children about weight management and physical activity. Make sure kids are given adequate opportunity to eat healthy foods and exercise during the school day.

Your child may not be just big boned, husky or simply growing. He or she may be overweight. It’s been well publicized that we’re in the midst of an obesity crisis, especially among our children. Experts estimate that one in five American kids are overweight, a number that’s doubled over the last 25 years. Yet, according to surveys, only 12 percent of parents consider their kids overweight. Unfortunately, that denial can have serious health consequences for a child.

When is heavy too heavy?

If your child has a body mass index (BMI) between the 85th and 95th percentiles, he or she is considered at risk of being overweight. A BMI greater than the 95th percentile is considered overweight. A child is considered obese if his or her weight is more than 20 percent higher than the ideal range.

Adult body mass is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters, squared. (See http://nhlbisupport.com/bmi/.) The math is trickier for children because BMI for kids is gender and age specific. Your pediatrician can plot your child’s BMI on graphs that indicate specific percentiles. If he or she says your child is in the 60th percentile, it means that compared to children of the same gender and age, 60 percent have a lower BMI than your child.

Why worry?

It’s true that a simple number doesn’t always tell the entire story. Many experts caution that some kids have their BMI measured during a growth spurt or are, in fact, very muscular—both which can throw off the BMI being used as an effective measure. What’s clear, however, is that many parents aren’t taking the issue seriously. If your child’s BMI percentile is high and your pediatrician voices concern, you need to listen.

Being overweight puts your child at risk now and in the future. An overweight child is more likely to have bone problems, early puberty, childhood diabetes, and sleep and breathing problems, not to mention poor self-esteem. Overweight children are also at increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes as an adult. What’s more, three out of four children who are obese at age 12 will be obese as an adult.

Shaping up

Take a conscious approach to what you’re teaching your children about healthy weight management. Even kids not at risk should be taught sound strategies to give them the best shot of avoiding adult obesity. Remember these three important elements:

  1. Make small, gradual changes in eating and exercise habits to ensure the best chance of success.
  2. Don’t single out a child. The whole family should follow the same advice and good habits.
  3. If a child already is struggling with weight, be supportive. Children don’t need to be reminded or teased.

With these principles in mind and with guidance from your pediatrician, you can give a gift of health to your children that will keep on giving throughout their adult lives.


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