As a parent or caregiver, you can do many things to help your child reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Exercising and eating healthy foods and drinks are important for children’s health. You can play an important role in helping your child and the whole family have habits that can improve health.
How can I tell if my child is overweight?
It’s not always easy to tell that a child is overweight. Children grow at different rates and at different times. In addition, a child’s amount of body fat changes with age and is different between girls and boys.
One way to find out if your child is overweight is to calculate your child’s External Link Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI is a measure of body weight in relation to height.
The BMI calculator uses a formula that gives a result that is often used to find out if a person is underweight, is at a healthy weight, or is overweight or obese. Children’s BMI is age- and sex-specific, and is known as the “age-specific BMI.
BMI by age uses the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts. Doctors use these charts to track a child’s growth. The charts use a number called a percentile to show how your child’s BMI compares to other children’s BMI.
The main BMI categories for children and teens are:
- Healthy weight: 5th to 84th percentile
- Overweight: 85 to 94 percentile
- Obesity: 95th percentile or greater
Why should I care?
You should be concerned if your child is overweight because it may increase your child’s chance of health problems now or later in life.
In the short term, for example, he may have breathing problems or joint pain, so it may be difficult for him to keep up with his friends.
Some children may have health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Some children may also receive teasing or bullying, or have NIH external link depression or low self-esteem.
Children who are overweight are at greater risk of becoming overweight adults. The chances of developing health problems, such as NIH external link heart disease and certain types of NIH external link cancer, are higher in adults who are overweight.
BMI is a screening tool, but it does not directly measure body fat or a child’s risk of health problems. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, talk to your child’s doctor or other health care professional.
Ask to have your child’s overall health and growth checked over the years and told if your child needs to control his or her weight.
Although many children who are still growing in height do not need to lose weight, they may need to decrease the amount of weight they gain as they continue to grow. Don’t put your child on a diet to lose weight unless your doctor tells you to.
How can I help my child have healthy habits?
You can play an important role in helping your child develop healthy eating and drinking habits, physical activity and sleep. For example, teach your child to have a balance between the amount of food and drink he or she eats and the amount of exercise he or she does every day.
Take your child shopping at the market and let him or her choose healthy foods and beverages. Let him help plan and prepare healthy meals and snacks. The 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines External link explains the types of foods and beverages that should be included in a healthy eating plan.
Here are some other ways to help your child have healthy habits:
- Be a good role model. Eat healthy foods and beverages and choose active hobbies. Children learn quickly and often imitate what they see.
- Talk with your child about what it means to be healthy and how to make healthy choices.
- Talk about how physical activity and certain foods and drinks can help your body be strong and stay healthy.
- Children should have at least one hour of physical activity every day and should limit their time in front of an NIH external link screen that is not for school work to no more than 2 hours a day. This includes in front of the computer, television and mobile devices.
- Talk about making healthy choices about food, beverages, and activities at school, when at a friend’s house, and in other places outside the home.
- Encourage the whole family to develop healthy eating, drinking, and physical activity habits. That way, everyone benefits and your child doesn’t.