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How To Help An Overweight Child

Updated on September 26, 2012
There's no need to hide from weight issues.
There's no need to hide from weight issues. | Source

Obesity is defined as weighing 20% over "normal" weight. The health issues associated with obesity are well-documented: risk for joint and back problems, and more seriously, diabetes, heart conditions and strokes.

Childhood obesityis especially troubling, as it sets up a potential for those health issues from a young age. The National Institutes of Health reported results of a study (documented in the Journal Pediatrics in 2006) that shows the tendency of someone who is obese in early childhood to continue staying that way into adolescence and adulthood.

Too many parents of overweight children stay quiet, hoping that the issue will sort itself out. While a child may have a growth spurt or suddenly shed "baby fat", they probably won't lose the extra weight naturally.

Ignoring any problem is a sure way to prolong it, and in this case that could have life-threatening consequences. Fortunately, you have the opportunity to provide your child with help and support now to eat better and become more active. That will plant seeds for a lifetime of healthier living!

You can start your child in a new direction today.
You can start your child in a new direction today. | Source

First Steps

If you think your child is struggling with extra weight, schedule a visit to your pediatrician. It will only take a few minutes to get weight and height measurements. Then you can see for sure how your child's results compare to the norms for his or her age. Ask for a recommendation for a weight loss goal.

Do some detective work and find out about if family genes may be playing a part in the situation. How does your child's physical development compare with yours or your spouse's? Do most family members have a larger frame or a body type that naturally carries extra weight?

After gathering all the information you need, devise an action plan. Think about changes you can make right away to start turning things around. Introducing new ideas gently and one at a time. Remember, even the smallest tweaks during the day will eventually add up to impressive results.

Young children learn by your words and actions.
Young children learn by your words and actions. | Source

How To Talk With Children About Weight

With younger children - If the child is still in grade school, they are too young to have a full conversation with you about weight. You can make changes in their diet and activity level for them. They may ask questions about what you're doing. Give them simple answers to help them learn about good choices.

Get your kids ready to move ahead!
Get your kids ready to move ahead! | Source

With older children and teens - It's normal for young people to feel self-conscious and awkward as they grow and develop. And if they are a little heavier than some of their friends that feeling only intensifies, especially when any teasing comes their way.

Chances are your children are already aware of their weight, whether on their own or having it pointed out to them by others. The key is to create an inviting and safe environment for sharing and learning. If possible, find a relaxed, natural time to touch on the subject. And make the focus of your concerns health rather than on appearance.

Let your child share any feelings or frustrations, and listen. Avoid making any comments right away, but instead ask questions for deeper understanding. Knowing that you care gives a child encouragement and builds trust.

Choose Your Language Carefully

Be careful of the message you are sending your child. Rather than pointing out the negative, give positive reasons for living a healthier lifestyle. And before you say a word, look at your motivation for addressing the issue. Your child's health, not impressing anyone else or realizing your own dreams, is the right one.

No matter how good your message is, you need to deliver it helpfully and hopefully. Avoid using these tactics:

  • Fear - "you'll get really sick if you don't lose weight…"
  • Anger - "why won't you listen to me!?..."
  • Shame - "I can't believe you're eating so much…"
  • Manipulation - "when you lose weight I'll buy you…"
  • Blame - "you have no willpower…"

Note: Also, don't label foods as 'good' or 'bad'. A food that is seen as forbidden will almost assuredly become a temptation for your child.

For kids, the chance to grow and cook their own food is an invaluable experience.
For kids, the chance to grow and cook their own food is an invaluable experience. | Source

Engage Children In The Process

Children of all ages want to feel included and important. An giving your child an active role in making healthy changes teaches them important decision-making skills.

Ways to include children:

Ask what your child's favorite fruits and vegetables are, then Include the responses in planning for future menus.

Have your child help you pick out fresh produce in the store. It's a fun way for little ones to learn colors. You can teach elementary school-age and older kids how to check for ripeness.

Show children how foods they like go together to make good meals. For instance, chicken nuggets + apple slices + milk = a yummy and healthy lunch!

If you like to cook or bake, enlist kids' help in the kitchen. Make sure that the chore is age appropriate: a young child could stir ingredients together while an older one could measure those ingredients out.

Some Easy Substitutions

Instead of
fruit juice or soda
plain or naturally-flavored water
8 oz sugar free lemonade
potato chips
10 low salt organic corn chips
12 unsalted pretzels
candy bar
1/2 cup low fat chocolate pudding
1 cup low fat chocolate milk
sugary cereal
1 cup Multigrain Cheerios
3/4 cup granola
Exercise can be family fun time!
Exercise can be family fun time! | Source

Specific ideas

Do...set the example. Children really do watch what their parents do and usually end up copying them. We need to practice what we preach!

Do…insist on breakfast every day. Skipping the first meal leads to hunger and a tendency to overeat later in the day. For busy mornings, granola bars (at least 4% fiber content), yogurt, fruit and wheat mini bagels help you all get ready to go fast.

Do…have family dinners as many nights during the week as possible. It's an important time for bonding and a chance to provide a healthy meal. Even pizza can be a "good" meal if you start with pre-made crust (Boboli makes delicious wheat and thin white crusts) and add veggies on top along with sauce and cheese. With a little guidance, that's a fun meal kids can make!

Do…get moving yourself. That will show your child how important you think it is, which will have impact. Plus, you'll feel better physically, and your new energy and outlook will be contagious!

Resources For More Information

My Overweight Child ( Articles by experts on a wide range of aspects, insights specifically for kids, plus a blog for parents.

WebMD ( Nutritionists and pediatricians provide clear and comprehensive information about health issues for children and teens.

Choose My Plate ( dietary and physical activity guidelines for children that parents, teachers and administrators can use.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Isn't it funny how siblings can be so different? That's how it is with me and my brothers, too. And now my son looks just like them!

    • kissayer profile image

      Kristy Sayer 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      A very interesting hub on an issue that is so relavent today. You did a great job! :)

      Since I was about 12 I've always had trouble keeping my weight up (and have been consistently underweight since then) whilst my sister is the polar opposite!

    • Heather63 profile imageAUTHOR

      Heather Adams 

      6 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Thanks Virginia! Yes, I was one of those "husky" kids, and I really did struggle with self-esteem because of it. But my kids have been dealing with being underweight - both are tricky to handle. I'm glad to hear what your pediatrician said, though. Good luck with juggling all those different scenarios!!

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      6 years ago from United States

      Such an important topic! I have 5 kids and two have struggled to be the right weight/height, while one is always rather underweight (she is just naturally tiny and active). Our pediatrician has been very wise. She suggested that we just try to maintain weights (not go up) and then let growth make the weight better for height. Voted up and useful!


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