Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Obesity and Children: Helping Your Child Keep a Healthy Weight


Am Fam Physician. 2004 Feb 15;69(4):933.

How do I know if my child is overweight?

Your doctor will use a chart to find out if your child is too heavy. Your child is overweight if he or she is heavier than 85 percent of other children who are the same age and height.

What can I do to keep my child from being overweight?

Weight problems can be hard to fix, so it is better to prevent the problem from happening in the first place. Here are some tips to help you keep your child at a healthy weight:

  • Do not make your child eat when he or she is not hungry—it is okay if not every drink or every meal gets finished.

  • Do not use food to comfort or to reward your child.

  • Do not offer dessert as a reward for finishing a meal. Doing this teaches your child to value sweets more than other foods.

  • Offer your child a healthy diet. No more than 30 percent of all the calories your child eats should be fat calories. Ask your doctor or a nutritionist to teach you about the right kinds of food to feed your child. Your child needs to get lots of fiber from fruits, vegetables, and grains.

  • Watch portion sizes. If your child is eating more calories (energy) than he or she uses up each day, he or she will gain weight.

  • Do not eat at fast-food restaurants.

  • Limit how much TV your child watches. Try to get your child to do something active instead, like riding a bicycle or playing a ball game.

  • Teach good eating and exercise habits.

How can I give my child better eating habits?

Most of what your child eats depends on what you bring home from the grocery store. Try not to buy foods that are pre-packaged. Instead, buy foods that are low in fat and sugar and high in fiber. After your child is two years old, it is safe to give him or her skim milk instead of whole milk. At this age your child also can drink water when he or she is thirsty. Juice and soda have a lot of sugar and do not provide nutrition. Make sure all meals and snacks are eaten at the table, not in front of the TV. Get the whole family to start eating a healthier diet, so your child will not feel alone.

How can I help my child get more physical activity?

One of the best things you can do for your child is to limit TV or video-game time. Instead, suggest playing active games. Encourage your child to join school and community sports teams. Take the whole family on walks and bike rides.

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2004 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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