Help your child find a healthy weight

You're shell-shocked — you've just left your child's yearly check-up at which your pediatrician told you to lay off the PB&J for your little sweetie. How, you wonder, did you get here? You know you're conscientious about your kids' food, and you try to keep the sugar and processed foods to a minimum. Still, there are other ways besides diet that your child can start to creep into concerning territory. What's going on and do you need to take it seriously? The answer is yes.

Childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And children who are overweight or obese are more likely to remain overweight or obese as adults. It may come as a shock to hear your pediatrician express concern about your toddler's or preschooler's weight, but health care professionals have begun to get a jump on educating parents in an attempt to prevent the percent of overweight and obese children from increasing further.

If your child is considered overweight or obese, he is more susceptible to a host of health problems including:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Asthma
  • Bone and joint problems
  • Sleep apnea
  • Emotional/psychological upset due to poor self-esteem, peer teasing and rejection

And if he stays overweight or obese into adulthood, his health risks increase for all of the above diseases as well as for numerous types of cancer and osteoarthritis.

What can you do to help your child maintain a healthy weight?

Don't panic, and start with small changes. By implementing new behaviors together slowly over time, you'll feel good about — rather than overwhelmed by — the change. Here are some suggestions:

  • Encourage your child to get up and be active. Whether they ride a bike or play basketball at the park, it's better for them to be up and about.
  • Make water your family's beverage of choice. Water is calorie-free and the thing your body needs to stay hydrated and functioning optimally.
  • Provide your child with healthy foods at home. If you're the one who grocery shops and prepares meals, why not go for healthy? Try these fun family recipes from the National Institutes of Health, or check out our healthy and tasty recipes.
  • Keep your shelves stocked with healthy snacks such as fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, healthy nuts, low-fat dairy items, and pretzels or popcorn.
  • Speak with your child about how important it is to exercise her right to eat healthy when you're not there to encourage her, and how it's important for you to cook together.
  • Putting in the effort to prepare a meal together can help your child take greater ownership of and pride in the food you eat.
  • Make being active a family thing. What you model for your child is just as important as what you encourage him to do. Find ways to be active together that work for your family, whether it's walking and talking, kicking a soccer ball around at the park, swimming, doing yoga or hosting spontaneous dance parties in your living room.
  • Take your child to the grocery store, and help educate her about the importance of reading labels, checking ingredients and planning healthy meals.
  • Take advantage of the offerings at your local farmers market. Fresh, seasonal foods are a great way to eat healthy.
  • Monitor your child's body mass index (BMI) using this interactive tool. A BMI value and its percentile will give you a basic picture of your child's size and where your child falls among other children of the same age and gender. Tracking your child's BMI can help alert you to any sudden changes as he grows.

Get started together with the We Can! program from the National Institutes of Health.

Promote a healthy body image with your teen

Adolescence brings many challenges, not the least of which is the physical changes a teen's body undergoes. Many adolescents may be frustrated and perhaps intimidated by their changing bodies, and they may question why they don't look like their best friends or the celebrities constantly paraded in magazines and on television.

Your job is to be there for them every step of the way. Take time to compliment your child's appearance, but don't make that the point of focus. Help your child identify other worthy areas of her life, such as her performance in school as well as her extracurricular life. Your child's adolescence is the perfect time to reexamine your own feelings and issues with your body. Checking your perceptions can help you put your best foot forward when it comes to providing a healthy and nurturing environment for your teen.

Resources

If you have questions or concerns, a great place to start is with your family doctor or your child's pediatrician. For additional resources to work on exercise and nutrition with your children, visit the We Can! section of the National Institutes of Health.

If you are concerned that your child is exhibiting symptoms of an eating disorder, you may want to schedule an appointment with your child's provider to discuss your concerns and observations. Our health library has extensive information on the topic, from general to specific. To browse the full array of subtopics, search "eating disorders." For helpful information on eating disorders, visit the National Eating Disorders Association.