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Today 13 percent of American children and 14 percent of teens are overweight—and the effects can last a lifetime. Excess weight during the early years can have long-term health consequences. Childhood obesity can increase the risk later for certain diseases—diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and some forms of cancer. Pediatricians are seeing adult health problems such as hypertension, high blood cholesterol and noninsulin-dependent diabetes in some obese children.

Why do children become overweight?

There's not one clear reason. Family history, inactivity, and poor food habits can all contribute to childhood weight problems. Children who snack heavily, eat irregular meals, lead a sedentary life, and eat a lot of high fat foods are at greater risk for weight problems.

How can I tell if my child is overweight?

Leave the diagnosis up to a doctor. Kids aren't shaped like little adults. At each stage of development, they have different amounts of body fat. Often they shed extra "baby" fat during puberty. Your child's doctor should make the assessment based on age, height and weight.

Should my overweight child be on a diet?

Weight loss regimens for adults are not meant for children or teens. Because their bodies are growing and developing, weight loss isn't the best approach for most children. Instead, for most kids, it's best to slow weight gain so they grow into their weight. In other words, let their height catch up with their weight. A diet that's too restrictive—with too few calories—may not supply the energy and nutrients that children need for normal growth and development.

If your child has a weight problem:

Encourage kids to participate in physical activities that they enjoy. Plan activities for the whole family.

Avoid severe food restriction in an effort to manage your child's intake. An overly restricted diet may keep children from getting nutrients they need and may lead to sneaking food.

Offer kids a variety of foods from the five food groups of the Food Guide Pyramid: especially lower-fat, lower-calorie foods—grains, vegetables, and fruits, as well as low-fat dairy foods and lean meats, poultry and fish.

Tailor portion sizes for the child's, not adult's, needs. Use smaller plates so their portions don't appear to be skimpy. If they're still hungry, they can ask for more.

Make meals and snacks enjoyable. Avoid rewarding or punishing a child with food. Encourage children to follow their own internal cues to eating.

Since snacking goes along with childhood, stock your kitchen with lower-calorie choices. For example, raw vegetables, fruit, juice, milk and vanilla wafers.

Set time limits on watching television and playing video games. Inactivity often leads to weight problems. Children who watch four or more hours of TV a day are twice as likely to be overweight as kids who don't.

Make a house rule: Eat only in the kitchen or dining room. High calorie snacks that may go along with TV watching can add to any problem.

Be a role model for your child—demonstrate healthy eating habits and regular physical activity.

Seek professional advice. A registered dietitian or your doctor can offer support on an approach that's right for the needs of your child.

This article was contributed by the American Dietetic Association, one of FoodFit's Resource Associations. For more information, or to locate a dietitian in your area visit



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