Childhood overweight and obesity: Help your child gain a healthy weight

Children need a certain number of calories to grow and develop. But if the child consumes more calories than he uses, the body stores these extra calories as fat. In otherwise healthy children, weight gain occurs more often because the child consumes more calories than he uses.

Why is it important for my child to learn good eating and exercise habits?

Good nutrition and regular physical activity can help your child reach and maintain a healthy weight. Teach your child good eating habits and exercise when he is young. These good habits will continue to benefit your child as he or she grows into an adult. Keeping fit helps prevent health problems that being overweight or obese can cause later in life, including:

  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • hypertension
  • high cholesterol
  • asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • some cancers.

Severe obesity can cause liver problems and arthritis.

An overweight or obese child may also be irritated or bullied because of their weight. You may feel bad about your body or feel isolated and alone. These feelings can interfere with a child’s ability to learn, make friends, and interact with others.

It is important for parents to model healthy behaviors for their children. Be supportive as your child strives for a healthy weight. Use language that describes being healthy and strong. Avoid language that focuses on weight loss, diet and achieving a certain size. Above all, be positive and encouraging.

The road to better health

By teaching and promoting healthy eating habits, you are giving your child important tools for healthy living. You can shape your child’s view of healthy eating by setting a good example.

Help your child choose healthy foods

  • Be a good role model. Choose healthy foods and snacks for yourself.
  • Have healthy snacks (such as fruits such as apples and bananas, and raw vegetables such as carrots and celery) available at your home.
  • Include a wide variety of low-fat proteins, vegetables and whole grains in the meals you eat.
  • Be consistent in your efforts to introduce healthy eating options. Children do not always accept new things right away. By continuing to offer healthy options, you will improve your child’s chances of developing healthy eating habits.
  • Teach your child to make healthy choices for school lunches.
  • Avoid eating fast food. If you eat at a fast food restaurant or restaurant, choose the healthiest options available.
  • Forget the “clean plate rule”. Let your child stop eating when he feels full.

How can I encourage my child to be more physically active?

As a parent or primary caregiver, you have a great influence on your child. Even if you don’t realize it, what you do affects the choices he or she makes. If your child sees that you are physically active on a regular basis, they are also more likely to be active.

Make physical activity part of your family’s routine. For example, you can take your dog for a walk together every morning or play basketball before dinner every night. Find physical activities that you enjoy doing as a family.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends that children receive 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity each day. AAFP encourages parents and schools to make physical activity a priority. Prolonged periods of physical inactivity at home or at school are discouraged.

Limit screen time

Limit your child’s screen time to no more than 1-2 hours a day. Screen time includes playing videos or computer games, surfing the web, sending text messages, and watching TV or DVD. Give a good example by limiting your own screen time.

Aspects to be considered

Watch for any changes in your child’s usual eating or physical habits. For example, does your child seem to be eating out of boredom, comfort, or in response to other emotions? This behavior is called “emotional eating.” Emotional eating can lead to weight gain. It can also be a sign that your child is struggling to cope with feelings such as depression or stress.

Watch out for symptoms of an eating disorder that include excessive concern about calories, anxiety about body weight, not eating at all, overeating, or excessive exercise. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are rare in children, but can occur. The risk increases when the child grows into an adolescent and a young adult.

If you have any concerns about your child’s behavior, be sure to talk to your doctor.

Questions to your doctor

  • How much should my child eat?
  • How often should my child eat?
  • What are the right portion sizes for my child?
  • How often should my child train?
  • My son is very picky. How can I make him eat more?
  • My teenage son says he’s always hungry. Could this be true?

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Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians

This information provides an overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and for more information on this topic.

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