"Overweight" and "at risk of overweight" are terms sometimes used when referring to children who weigh more than expected. Doctors use growth charts or the body mass index (BMI) to measure a child's weight in relation to his or her height. To find out your child's BMI, use this Interactive Tool: Is Your Child at a Healthy Weight?
If you have concerns that your child is overweight or at risk of becoming so, first ask your doctor to review your child's growth charts and medical history with you.
Sometimes a child's BMI and weight can increase without a child being at risk of having too much body fat. For instance, before and during puberty it is normal for children to have a significant gain in weight before they begin to grow in height. Also, children who are very muscular (such as children who are very active in sports), may have a high BMI but have normal or even lower-than-normal amounts of body fat.
If your child's BMI and growth pattern suggest a weight problem, your doctor will give your child an examination that looks for health problems that can cause weight gain. This may include questions about eating and physical activity habits. Regular checkups for health problems will also be important over time.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Your job is to offer nutritious food choices at meals and snack times. You decide what, where, and when your family eats. Your child's job is to choose how much he or she will eat of the foods you serve. Your child even gets to decide whether to eat.
Do not restrict food. Food restriction causes children to ignore their internal hunger gauges. Children who have their food restricted often end up heavier, because they become anxious about food and eating. Anxiety about not getting enough to eat will often lead a child to overeat whenever he or she gets a chance. This causes the child to become less in touch with how hungry or full he or she is, and the child becomes more likely to eat more than his or her body needs. This can also happen when children or teens follow weight-loss diets. It doesn't work to put a child on a diet—you get the opposite effect.
Pay attention to behaviours that may be adding to weight gain, and then work to correct them. Then trust that your child will end up at the weight that is right for him or her.
If you are concerned about your child's weight, talk to your child's doctor. He or she can tell you if your child is gaining weight too quickly and can give you steps to take to help your child have a healthy weight.
As a parent, your job is to give your child the tools for a healthy lifestyle and remain as relaxed as possible about the result.
To help your child eat well, use the same healthy eating approach with everyone in your family:
To help your child develop a balance between the calories he or she takes in and burns off:
As for any child with health concerns, make sure your child has all of the routine checkups and treatment that your doctor recommends.
It doesn't take long for children to figure out that our culture and their peers idealize thinness. Children who are overweight are especially at risk of being teased and feeling alone. This can cause low self-esteem and depression.
For information about helping a child who is being teased, see the topic Bullying.
To help your child have greater health, confidence, and self-esteem, you can:
Canadian Paediatric Society (2012). Healthy active living: Physical activity guidelines for children and adolescents. Paediatrics and Child Health, v17(4): 209–210. Also available online: http://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/physical-activity-guidelines.
Canadian Paediatric Society (2017). Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world. Available online: https://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/screen-time-and-young-children. Accessed November 13, 2017.
Other Works Consulted
Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care (2015). Recommendations for growth monitoring, and prevention and management of overweight and obesity in children and youth in primary care. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 187(6): 411–421. DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.141285. Accessed April 21, 2015.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerJohn Pope, MD - PediatricsThomas M. Bailey, MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerRhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Current as ofNovember 16, 2017
Current as of: November 16, 2017
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
& Thomas M. Bailey, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
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