If your child is overweight, he or she is not alone. Overweight is growing at epidemic rates among American children and teens. The rate has tripled in thirty years and is expected to rise. In 2004, 18 percent of children ages 6 to 11 and 17 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 19 were considered overweight.
It is important to remember that there is not one healthy weight for your child. A healthy weight can be a range of weights depending on gender, age, and body type. The best way to assess if your child is overweight is to talk to your child’s doctor or other health professional. They can use growth charts developed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to decide if your child is overweight and developing optimally. Overweight is classified as a BMI-for-age-and-gender of greater than or equal to the 95th percentile. BMI, or body mass index, is calculated as weight divided by height squared (in kg/m2). Health professionals can also track any weight gain over time to see if the weight gain occurred slowly or rapidly. If it’s sudden, it is possible that the child’s height has not caught up with his or her weight. These factors, along with information about body type (such as amount of muscle), diet, physical activity, and emotional stress, can provide information to use in developing a care plan for your child
Thinness is emphasized in our society. As a result, overweight children often complain of being teased or singled out by other children. This can be extremely traumatic and may lead to low self-esteem, poor body image, and feelings of isolation.
Overweight is also associated with a number of health problems. Overweight children are at higher risk for asthma, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders. They are also more likely to become overweight adults. Maintaining a reasonable weight, eating well, and being physically active during childhood, are important for a lifetime of good health.
While overweight is certainly a concern that has many health and social consequences, it is important not to overemphasize weight, but rather to focus on health. Weight is only one factor in health. Plus, research shows that it may be healthier to be fit and overweight than unfit and thin. If overweight is accompanied with an unhealthy lifestyle, then you need to take steps now to improve your child’s lifestyle. If you feel that there may be a psychological basis for the overweight, consult a health professional. Nutritious food choices, plenty of physical activity, and a positive body image help create a healthy kid at any size. As a parent, you play a vital role in creating supportive and healthy environments and opportunities for your child to achieve these goals.
Do not place an overweight child on a calorie- restricted diet unless it is recommended and supervised by your doctor. First, such restrictions could lead to nutrient deficiencies or other health concerns. Second, focusing on weight loss may cause some overweight children to develop an eating disorder or other unhealthy attitudes toward food.
Young children need smaller servings than adults. Teach your child to listen to his or her body. It is important for a child to eat when he or she is hungry and stop when full. Don’t ask children to “clean their plates.” It is important to teach children how to gauge their hunger and self-regulate their food intake, using internal, not external, cues. Most adult portion sizes and super sizes offer too much food to a child. Provide smaller portions on smaller plates; then let your children know they can have a second helping. Rather than focusing on quantity and quickness, work toward quality. This can be done a few ways:
We live in a sedentary society. Children can spend all day studying in school, doing homework, working on a computer, and watching television and never be active. Many schools no longer require physical education or even recess. Children need daily physical activity to be healthy and alert and to learn better. Current recommendations suggest 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity—enough to break a sweat or breathe hard—three or more days each week, and at least 60 minutes of total physical activity each day.
Remember that each child is unique. Children come in different sizes, shapes, and weights. They also grow at different rates. Every body is a good body.
Be sensitive about discussions focusing on weight, weight loss, dieting, and food. Also be cautious about singling out an overweight child from other children in your family who may not be overweight. Weight is only one aspect of a child’s make-up and health.
Here are some ways to promote a healthy body image among kids:
A healthy weight is a weight that can be maintained healthfully, insuring that children are well nourished, active, and have a positive attitude about their body and size.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s weight, consult your physician or a registered dietitian. They can work with you to determine if your child is at a healthy weight and how to proceed if there are any concerns.
Virginia Cooperative Extension offers educational and cooking classes on preventing childhood overweight for parents, childcare providers, and children. Visit the Virginia Cooperative Extension website at www.ext. vt.edu to locate your nearest Extension agent for more information on food, nutrition, and health programs and resources.
For more resources and information:
Visit www.MyPyramid.gov to obtain an individualized eating plan for everyone in your family. The website also has links to other diet and physical information and a Web page for kids that includes the My Pyramid Blast Off game and tips for families.
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, re-print, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Alan L. Grant, Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Jewel E. Hairston, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.
May 1, 2009