Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date.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. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2008;78(1):65-66

See related article on childhood obesity.

How do I know if my child is at a healthy weight?

A formula called the body mass index (BMI) can help figure out a child's weight status. A BMI shows the relationship between a child's height and weight. You can find out if your child has a healthy BMI by using the following calculator:

What are some risks of childhood obesity?

Being obese puts children at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, acid-reflux disease, and sleep-related breathing problems. Obesity may also be related to depression, low self-esteem, and not fitting in with other children.

How can I help my child reach or stay at a healthy weight?

First, identify any unhealthy habits. Even slim children may have habits that could lead to obesity. It's important to focus on specific habits instead of your child's actual weight. Five key unhealthy habits to avoid are:

  • Drinking sugary drinks. Some examples are soft drinks, fruit juice, fruit drinks and punches, sports drinks, sweetened iced tea, energy drinks, and flavored milk (e.g., chocolate milk). Children should have no more than one 12-ounce serving of these types of drinks each day.

  • Eating fast food. This includes foods such as burgers, french fries, and chicken nuggets. Children should eat fast food no more than once per week.

  • Watching television and playing video games. Spending a lot of time watching television, playing video games, using a computer, or listening to music while sitting or lying down puts children at risk of obesity. Children should spend no more than two hours per day in these activities.

  • Not being active. It is not healthy for children to avoid daily activities (e.g., walking, riding a bike, playing sports). Children should be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day, and 60 minutes per day would be better.

  • Not eating dinner with an adult. Children should have their evening meal with an adult as often as possible. Children who eat with at least one parent most nights of the week tend to eat healthier and weigh less.

Skipping breakfast, which often leads to overeating later in the day, can also lead to obesity. Notice how often your child follows unhealthy habits. Set small, reasonable goals to create healthier habits over time. Keep up these healthy habits at home, with everyone in the family involved. These steps can help your child reach or stay at a healthy weight. You should help your child follow healthy habits for a lifetime, no matter what he or she weighs.

Don't focus on diets, weight-loss camps, or other plans that are only for overweight and obese children. Instead, focus on healthy activities and positive results to help ease the shame these children may feel about their weight.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Dietetic Association

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

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