When Your Child Is Overweight

Elizabeth Renaud, MD

As with many other things, a lifetime of healthy habits begins in childhood.  A child who exercises regularly and eats healthy food will often grow up to be an adult who makes healthy choices as well.

Children who begin to gain weight or are already overweight at a young age are at high risk of gaining even more weight as they age and of becoming obese adults. Obesity carries many risks such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea. Children who are obese may begin to suffer from some of these illnesses during childhood.

My child is not overweight

As parents, it may be difficult to recognize when your child is overweight. You may think of your child as "pudgy" or "slightly heavy." However, by strict medical and scientific criteria your child may be clinically diagnosed as overweight or obese. Often parents cannot tell just by looking. That is why it is important for a health care provider to regularly monitor your child’s growth, weight, and body mass index.

The dos and don’ts of helping a child lose weight

If a child is diagnosed as overweight or obese, the best way to help them achieve a healthy weight is to form new habits that will last a lifetime. You may not see immediate results, but over time these efforts will pay off.

Proper nutrition and exercise habits that your child can stick to are what parents should encourage.  “Diets” do not work well and usually do not result in sustained weight loss. These are some dos and don’ts for parents:

  • DO talk to your child about his or her food choices.
  • DO limit fast food intake and easy access to snacks.
  • DO substitute fatty and high calorie snacks with healthy snacks, such as vegetables and fruit.
  • DO encourage athletic activity, regular outside after-school play, and participation in sports and other physical activities.
  • DO NOT use fad diets for children.
  • DO NOT try to shame your child into eating less or exercising more.

Seeking help

If a child continues to gain weight despite efforts to eat healthy and exercise more, it may be best to seek help from an expert. A nutritionist may be helpful, either on a one-on-one basis or through a group program like the Creating Healthy Attitudes, Nutrition Goals and Exercise Strength (CHANGES) program at Hasbro Children’s Hospital

For adolescents who are severely overweight to the point that it endangers their current or future health, bariatric surgery may be a consideration.

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