Overeating in children and adolescents


Sometimes it may seem like your child or teen is eating all the time. You may seem to eat a lot between meals or overeat during meals. How do you know if this behavior is a cause for concern or something normal that will happen? What can you do to help your child maintain a healthy weight and prevent overeating?

The road to better health

The child’s eating habits develop early in life, perhaps between 1 and 2 years of age. That is why it is important for parents to teach and promote healthy eating habits. These examples should start at an early age and continue into adolescence. Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Be a good role model. Choose healthy foods and snacks for yourself.
  • Have healthy snacks at home. For example, eat fruits such as apples and bananas, raw vegetables such as carrots and celery or low-fat yogurt.
  • Include lots of low-fat protein, vegetables and whole grains in the meals you prepare.
  • Offer your child healthy foods, even if he doesn’t want them. Children are not always open to new things. But if you continue to offer healthy options, you will improve his chances of developing healthy eating habits.
  • Teach your child to make healthy choices for school lunches.
  • Avoid fast food. If you eat at a fast food restaurant or a regular meal, choose the healthiest options available.
  • Avoid sugary drinks such as soft drinks and sweet teas. Limit fruit juice for children to no more than one glass a day.
  • Forget the “clean plate rule”. Your child should stop eating when they feel full.
  • Don’t use food as a reward. Instead, reward good behavior with fun family activities (such as bowling instead of ice cream).

Benefits of physical activity

Encourage your child or teen to be physically active. This offers many health benefits, including:

  • It helps the body burn calories instead of storing them as body fat.
  • Helps keep blood sugar levels more balanced and within normal limits (especially important for children who have or are at risk for diabetes).
  • Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Helps strengthen bones and muscles.
  • Build strength and endurance.
  • Reduces stress and improves sleep and mental well-being.
  • Improves self-esteem by helping children feel better about their bodies and appearance.
  • Prevents serious health problems that can come with being overweight and obese.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recognizes that regular physical activity is essential for healthy growth and development, and encourages all children and adolescents to receive at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity each day. The AAFP also encourages parents and schools to make physical activity a priority. On the other hand, prolonged periods of physical inactivity should also be discouraged both at home and at school.

There are ways to help your child be physically active:

  • Limit your child’s screen time to no more than 2 hours a day. Screen time includes playing video or computer games, surfing the Internet, sending text messages, and watching TV or DVD. Give a good example by limiting your own screen time.
  • Help your child find physical activities that he enjoys. For example, your child may enjoy playing team sports, dancing, playing outside, or volunteering.
  • Make physical activity a part of your family’s lifestyle. Take a walk, ride a bike or do housework together. Plan active family outings.

Should I consider a diet for my child to lose weight?

Do not put your child on a weight loss diet without first talking to your doctor. Children need a certain amount of calories and nutrients to grow, learn and develop.

When is it normal for my child or teenager to eat more than usual?

Sometimes it is normal for your child or teenager to eat more than usual. They can do this and gain weight just before a growth spurt. In general, this type of weight is lost quickly as your child continues to grow.

Aspects to be considered

For some children and teens, overeating can be a sign of an eating problem. This may include emotional eating or an eating disorder, such as an overeating disorder.

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is eating for comfort, boredom or in response to emotions, not for eating or hunger. Emotional eating can lead to overeating because it is usually not about the need for nutrients or calories. Your child’s body does not need food. Over time, consuming extra calories can cause your child to gain weight and become overweight or obese. Overeating can also make your child feel guilty or ashamed.

If you notice signs of emotional eating in your child, talk to him or her about your worries. Help your child develop a healthy response to problems such as focusing on the solution.

What is an overeating disorder?

Eating disorders usually develop during adolescence or early adulthood. Overeating disorder is an eating disorder in which a person regularly consumes large amounts of food for a short time. People who have an overeating disorder are often embarrassed by the amount of food they eat.

They can hide food to overeat. People with this disorder often try to follow a diet without success or promise to stop eating so much. They feel that they cannot control the desire to eat large amounts of food. As a result, they are overweight or obese.

If you are worried that your child may have an eating disorder, monitor his behavior and talk to your doctor. Your doctor may evaluate your child and recommend the best way to help your child.

What are the health risks of overeating?

Overeating can lead to weight gain. Children who are overweight or obese are at risk of serious health problems with age, including:

  • Heart disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • asthma.
  • Sleep apnea.
  • Some cancers.

Overeating disorder can also cause stomach problems and is associated with symptoms of depression.

Questions to your doctor

  • What should I do if my child does not eat anything healthy?
  • My child is hungry between meals. Should I let him eat?
  • Is it okay for my child not to eat meat?
  • My son doesn’t like to eat in front of anyone. Should I be worried?
  • My teenager is always on a diet and I’m worried. What can I do?


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Improve your eating habits

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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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