Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(4):871

See related article on childhood obesity.

How do I know if my child is overweight?

Your doctor will use a chart to find out if your child might be overweight. Your child is overweight if he or she is heavier than 85 percent of other children who are the same age and height. If your child has bigger bones, he or she may weigh more because of that, not because of too much fat.

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

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

  • Don't make your child eat when he or she isn't hungry—it's OK if not every drink or every meal gets finished.

  • Don't use food to comfort or to reward.

  • Don't 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 dietitian 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.

  • Don't eat at fast-food restaurants more than once a week.

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

  • Spend time being active with your child—go on family walks and play outdoor games together whenever you can.

  • Teach your child good eating and exercise habits now to help him or her have a healthy life.

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, sugary or high in fat. Instead, buy foods that are low in fat and high in fiber. After your child is 2 years old, skim milk can safely replace whole milk. Make sure all meals and snacks are eaten at the table, and not in front of the TV. Get the whole family to start eating a healthier diet, so your child won't 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 time. Instead, suggest playing tag, having foot races, skating and playing other active games. Encourage your child to join school and community sports teams. Take the whole family on walks and bike rides and to ball games.

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