My Child is Overweight: Should I Put Him on a Diet?
My Child is Overweight: Should I Put Him on a Diet?

It can be a shock if your pediatrician or school nurse tells you your child is overweight. Doctors routinely measure the height and weight of children to determine their body mass index, or BMI. At each age, most children fall within a range of height and weight. If your child consistently weighs too much based on this formula, your doctor will let you know.

 While it is good to be concerned about your child's weight (overweight kids are at greater risk of being overweight or obese adults, with all the associated health issues) it is important not to overreact by putting your child on a weight loss diet.

First we need to remember that children are not little adults. While adults have finished growing, children are growing taller and bigger every day. The goal should be to slow down the weight gain so they can grow into their weight. Restrictive diets, especially those that limit calories or fat, aren't likely to provide all the nutrients kids need to grow.     

Second, the term "diet" usually leads to food restriction and elimination and sets the stage for battles between parents and their kids over food. This can lead to your child sneak food for fear of being hungry and ultimately eating more. Kids who feel the need to sneak food are developing an unhealthy relationship with food that can lead to bad eating habits or worse, disordered eating.

Third, let's face it, diets don’t work. How many times have you tried a diet, only to find yourself caught in a vicious cycle of weight loss and gain? Don't set your child up for that kind of failure. Unlike adults, children have the advantage of growing taller. If they maintain their weight, that means their BMI actually goes down. It's like losing five pounds for every inch gained! So simply keeping their weight in check is enough to help them.

What can you do to help your child achieve a healthy weight?

  • Provide balanced meals and snacks on a regular schedule. Children who know they are going to be fed in a few hours are less likely to overeat.
  • Keep the refrigerator stocked with healthy foods from all five food groups. 
  • Be a good role model by making healthy choices. Eat with your children and offer them the same foods that you are eating. You are the most important thing at the table!
  • Prepare more meals at home; portions tend to be “right-sized” at home.
  • Encourage your child to get at least 60 minutes of activity each day. Put limits on "screen time" (TV, computers and hand-held devices including phones). Studies have found this change alone can make a big difference.

If you are concerned with your child’s weight, speak with your pediatrician or a registered dietitian who can help you to start making healthy lifestyle changes. By not overreacting and instead implementing some simple lifestyle changes your child can be on the way to a healthier weight.