Kids make up a significant portion of the rising obesity rates in the United States. Being overweight as a kid increases the odds that you’ll be overweight later in life, and that you’ll develop obesity-related medical conditions. As a parent, you may be better off looking at your child’s health and the quality of his diet than the numbers on the scale as you work toward getting him to his healthy weight.
A healthy weight doesn’t mean being thin — or any one body size or type. It means being at a weight that supports optimal health for your child, reduces disease risk and makes your child feel healthy and happy. That number will be different from one child to the next, because kids grow at different rates and have different bodies. A child’s current body can change rapidly as he grows. It could balance out during puberty or young adulthood. That’s why it’s important to work with your doctor to assess your child’s overall health, not just her weight.
Healthy Weight for Kids
Because kids grow and mature at different rates, it’s difficult to determine one healthy weight that applies to all children of one age. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics use body mass index determine healthy weight. The BMI uses a child’s weight and height instead of just weight. Your child’s number are compared to other children of the same age to give your child a percentile ranking. The healthy weight range covers the 5th percentile to the 85th percentile. Lower than the 5th percentile indicates your child may be underweight. Rankings between the 85th and 95th percentile indicate your child is overweight. Children in the 95th percentile or higher are likely obese. Use the CDC’s BMI Percentile Calculator for Child and Teens to calculate your child’s BMI.
Gaining Weight Safely
If your child is underweight, your doctor might not recommend you increase her weight, so long as she’s in good health and eating an adequate and balanced diet. If your doctor does want your child to put on a few pounds, the best way to go about it is to increase the healthy calories she eats. Encourage one to two extra healthy snacks throughout the day and larger portions of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy at mealtimes. Ask your doctor about meal replacement shakes if your child is a picky eater.
Losing Weight Safely
The best way to lose weight is to swap out empty calories from processed foods, junk food and unhealthy fare with lean meats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy. If your child already eats a well-balanced diet, you may need to reduce the number of calories she eats. You can burn additional calories through physical activity. Kids needs to play, run and be physically active at least 60 minutes per day. Limit the amount of time your child spends watching TV, playing video games and using the computer. Get active with your child and make exercise a family affair.
Parents often have the best intention when they try to address their kid’s weight, but they don’t quite realize the messages their kid could be internalizing. Negative body image starts in early childhood and can negatively impact a person’s relationship with her food, her body and her self-worth for the rest of her life. It’s important to include self-esteem and body positivity in your approach. Weight loss or gain isn’t just about food and exercise. Avoid derogatory comments about your child’s body. If your child is over or underweight, he already knows. Never police your child’s eating habits or criticize her choices. Instead, help her and your family as a whole, make better choices, based on nutrition rather than a food’s potential impact on the waistline.