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Help Your Child Stay at a Healthy Weight

Content last updated on:
November 25, 2014

The Basics

Help your child – and your whole family – eat healthy and stay physically active. The healthy habits your child learns now can last a lifetime.

What can I do to help my child stay at a healthy weight?
Help your child stay at a healthy weight by balancing what your child eats with physical activity. Two of the best ways to prevent your child from becoming overweight or obese are to:

  • Help your child eat healthier foods
  • Be more physically active as a family

You are a role model.
Parents are often the most important role models for children. When you choose to eat right and be physically active, your child will be more likely to make those choices, too.

Eating healthy and getting active as a family will also help you spend more quality time together.

Why do I need to worry about my child’s weight?
Being overweight or obese as a child can lead to serious problems, like:

  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Sleep problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Getting bullied

Learn more about health problems and childhood obesity.

Being overweight as a child increases the risk of being overweight or obese as an adolescent and young adult. In other words, many kids don’t “grow out of” being overweight.

Today, most adults – and about 1 in 3 children – are overweight or obese. 

How do I know if my child at a healthy weight?
Finding out your child’s body mass index (BMI) is the best way to learn if he or she is at a healthy weight.

Children grow at different rates, so it’s not always easy to tell if your child is at a healthy weight. Healthy weight is also defined differently for children and teens than it is for adults.

Ask your child’s doctor or nurse whether your child is at a healthy weight. You can also use this BMI calculator for children and teens if you know your child’s height and weight.

What if my child is overweight or obese?
Successful weight management programs for kids include counseling and education about eating a healthy diet and being physically active. Parents have an important role to play in these programs, too.

Talk to your child’s doctor or nurse for more information.

Take Action!

Take Action!

Help your child make healthy choices and learn healthy habits.

Ask the doctor to screen your child for obesity.
Your child’s doctor or nurse can calculate your child's BMI (body mass index) and say if your child is at a healthy weight. If your child is overweight or obese, ask the doctor or nurse to help you find a weight-loss program for your child.

Look for a weight-loss program that includes counseling to help kids:

  • Make healthy choices about food
  • Get more physical activity

What about cost?
Obesity screening and counseling are covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, your child may be able to get these services at no cost to you.

Check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about other services for children that are covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

Make sure your child gets at least 60 minutes (1 hour) of physical activity every day.
It doesn’t have to be 60 minutes all at once – it can be shorter activities that add up to 1 hour a day. Fun activities that children do on their own are best. For example, playing tag is a great way for kids to get moving.

Be sure your child is doing different types of activity, including:

  • Aerobic activities, like running, skipping, or dancing
  • Muscle-strengthening activities, like climbing playground equipment or trees
  • Bone-strengthening activities, like jumping rope or playing basketball

Find out more about the different types of physical activity.

Make getting active a family project.

Get more ideas on how to increase your family’s daily activity.

Limit screen time.
Keep inactive (sitting down) screen time to 2 hours or less a day for kids age 2 and older. Screen time is time spent using computers or smart phones, watching TV, or playing video games.

Exercise TV shows or video games where your child moves around are better choices than inactive screen time.

Shop, cook, and plan for healthy meals.
Buy and serve more vegetables, fruits, and whole grain foods. Here are some tips and ideas:

Get more tips for smart food shopping.

Eat healthy.
You can be a role model for your child by eating healthy. Plus, a healthy diet can help protect you from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.

Start the day with a good breakfast.
Skipping breakfast can make kids hungry and tired, and it may lead them to snack on junk food later in the day. Give your kids whole-grain cereal with fat-free or low-fat milk and fruit instead of sugary cereal.

Make healthy snacks.
Healthy snacks give kids important nutrients and help control hunger between meals.

Sit at the table and eat together as a family.
When families eat together, children eat more vegetables and fruits and less junk food. Plan healthy, affordable meals and enjoy them as a family. Let children help pick out healthy foods, prepare meals, and set the table.

Make sure your child gets enough sleep.
If kids don’t get enough sleep, they are at higher risk of being overweight or obese.

  • Teens need at least 9 hours of sleep each night.
  • School-aged children need at least 10 hours of sleep each night.
  • Preschoolers need between 11 and 12 hours of sleep each day.
  • Newborns need between 16 and 18 hours of sleep each day.

Set a bedtime schedule and remind your child when it’s time to get ready for bed. Get more tips on helping your child get enough sleep.

Share these websites with your kids.
These kid-friendly websites can help children learn about healthy habits.

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