Overweight or obesity is having too much body fat. Children who are overweight or obese weigh more than what is healthy for their body type.
Overweight or obesity increases your child’s risk of poor health and major illness, including:
Being overweight or obese can also cause your child to be self-conscious about his or her looks or to be teased or bullied. Overweight or obese children are at increased risk for depression and substance abuse. Sometimes the pressure from parents and other adults to lose weight causes children to react too strongly. They may think too much about weight and set the stage for an eating disorder.
Another problem is that overweight or obese children often become overweight adults.
Several things can cause overweight or obesity.
Putting on too much weight is the first sign that your child may be at risk for overweight or obesity. You may notice that your child's clothing is getting too tight. As your child gains weight, he or she may have symptoms caused by overweight or obesity. These symptoms include:
Overweight or obesity increases the risk that your child will have health problems as an adult, such as gallbladder, heart, or liver disease.
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and examine your child. Your child’s provider will ask about your child’s medical history, eating habits, and exercise habits. Your child may have blood tests to check for hormone problems.
Your child’s healthcare provider will check your child's height and weight against the standard growth charts. The body mass index, or BMI, for children is used for ages 2 through 20. These growth charts, one for boys and one for girls, help to check weight through the growing years. BMI most accurately shows whether your child is underweight, normal, or overweight. Your child's BMI is compared with that of thousands of children of the same age. This comparison will show what percentile of BMI your child is in.
Overweight is greater than the 85% of BMI for your child's age.
Obese is usually defined as greater than 95% of BMI for your child's age.
Growth charts are only one part of a larger picture that takes into account your child's medical history and current health. Your child’s healthcare provider can tell you if your child has an increased risk of health problems because of weight. Your child’s provider can also help find a healthy weight program that works for your child.
Treatment for overweight or obesity will include lifestyle changes. Dietitians and healthcare providers can help you design a safe, healthy, effective program for your child to have a healthy weight.
In general, a healthy eating plan for a healthy weight is one that:
Exercise is a very important part of a successful program for a healthy weight. Almost any activity that involves mild to moderate exertion is good. Your child may choose to walk, jog, swim, cycle, or do aerobics. Walking is a great way for almost everyone to get more exercise. Using a pedometer can be fun and motivating. A pedometer is a device that attaches to clothing and tracks how many steps your child takes in a day.
Strength training will make your child’s muscles stronger and able to work longer without getting tired. Strength training, or weight training, means doing exercises that build muscle strength. To build muscle, your child can lift free weights, use weight machines, use resistance bands, or use his bodyweight, such as doing push-ups, pull-ups, or sit-ups. Check with your child's healthcare provider before your child starts a strength training program.
Ask your child’s healthcare provider what kinds and amounts of exercise might be right for your child.
Some children eat as a way to cope with emotional problems. If your child has trouble with stress, depression, or anxiety, your child’s healthcare provider may refer your child to a therapist. Your child needs to learn how to deal with emotional problems to succeed with a healthy weight program.
If hormone imbalances are contributing to excess weight, your child’s provider may prescribe medicine to treat the imbalance.
Claims have been made that certain herbal and dietary products help with weight loss. Many of these claims are not true. Some supplements can have serious side effects. Talk to your child’s healthcare provider before you allow your child to use herbal and dietary supplements.
Parents often do not think that their child is overweight or obese. Even if they know their child is heavier than other children, parents may think that the child will simply grow out of it. However, if a child is overweight or obese, it is often due to unhealthy eating and exercise habits. Those habits are not likely to change unless parents take action.
If several people in your family have diabetes or weight problems, your child is at higher risk. Making healthy lifestyle changes as a family helps everyone. Make one or two changes at a time and let children adjust. Making big changes in diet or lifestyle is not easy. Sometimes just eliminating sweetened drinks and starting an exercise program will be enough to help your child have a healthy weight.
Some tips to help your child: