One of the most important things you can do to help overweight children is to let them
know that they are okay whatever their weight. Children's feelings about themselves often
are based on their parents' feelings about them. If you accept your children at any
weight, they will be more likely to accept and feel good about themselves. It is also
important to talk to your children about weight, allowing them to share their concerns
with you. Your child probably knows better than anyone else that he or she has a weight
problem. For this reason, overweight children need support, acceptance, and encouragement
from their parents.
Focus on the family.
Parents should try not to set children apart because of their weight, but focus on
gradually changing their family's physical activity and eating habits. Family involvement
helps to teach everyone healthful habits and does not single out the overweight child.
Increase your family's physical activity.
Regular physical activity, combined with healthy eating habits, is the most efficient
and healthful way to control your weight. It is also an important part of a healthy
lifestyle. Some simple ways to increase your family's physical activity include the
- Be a role model for your children. If your children see that you are physically active
and have fun, they are more likely to be active and stay active for the rest of their
- Plan family activities that provide everyone with exercise and enjoyment, like walking,
dancing, biking, or swimming. For example, schedule a walk with your family after dinner
instead of watching TV. Make sure that you plan activities that can be done in a safe
- Be sensitive to your child's needs. Overweight children may feel uncomfortable about
participating in certain activities. It is important to help your child find physical
activities that they enjoy and that aren't embarrassing or too difficult.
- Reduce the amount of time you and your family spend in sedentary activities, such as
watching TV or playing video games.
- Become more active throughout your day and encourage your family to do so as well. For
example, walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, or do some activity during a
work or school break-get up and stretch or walk around.
The point is not to make physical activity an unwelcome chore, but to make the most of
the opportunities you and your family have to be active.
Teach your family healthy eating habits.
Teaching healthy eating practices early will help children approach eating with the
right attitude-that food should be enjoyed and is necessary for growth, development, and
for energy to keep the body running. The best way to begin is to learn more about
children's nutritional needs by reading or talking with a health professional and then to
offer them some healthy options, allowing your children to choose what and how much they
eat. The pamphlet "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" is a good source of dietary
advice for healthy Americans ages 2 years and older. This pamphlet is available from WIN.
||Don't place your child on a restrictive diet.
Children should never be placed on a restrictive diet to lose weight, unless a doctor
supervises one for medical reasons. Limiting what children eat may be harmful to their
health and interfere with their growth and development.
To promote proper growth and development and prevent overweight, parents
should offer the whole family a wide variety of foods from each of the food groups
displayed in the Food Guide Pyramid. The Food Guide Pyramid applies to healthy
people ages 2 years and older.
The Food Guide Pyramid illustrates the importance of balance among food groups in a
daily eating pattern. Select most of your daily servings of food from the food groups that
are the largest in the picture and closest to the bottom of the Pyramid.
- Most of the foods in your diet should come from the grain products group (6-11
servings), the vegetable group (3-5 servings), and the fruit group (2-4 servings). (See
chart for suggested serving sizes.)
- Your diet should include moderate amounts of foods from the milk group (2-3 servings)
and the meat and beans group (2-3 servings).
- Foods that provide few nutrients and are high in fat and sugars should be used
sparingly. Fat should not be restricted in the diets of children younger than 2
years of age.
|One Serving* Equals
|BREAD, CEREAL, RICE & PASTA GROUP
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 ounce of ready to eat cereal
- 1 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta
|MILK, YOGURT, & CHEESE GROUP
- 1 cup of milk or yogurt
- 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese
- 2 ounces of processed cheese
- 1 cup of raw vegetables or 1/2 cup of frozen leafy leafy vegetables (cooked)
- 1/2 cup of other vegetables - cooked or chopped raw
- 3/4 cup of vegetable juice
|MEAT, POULTRY, FISH, DRY BEANS, & NUTS GROUP
- 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
- 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans or 1 egg counts as 1 ounce of lean meat
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of nuts count as 1 ounce of meat
- 1 medium apple, banana, or orange
- 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
- 3/4 cup of fruit juice
|*NOTE: Serving sizes are for children and adults ages 2 years and
older. A range of servings is given for each food group. The smaller number is for
children who consume about 1,300 calories a day, such as 2-4 years of age. The larger
number is for those who consume about 3,000 calories a day, such as boys 15-18 years of
If you are unsure about how to select and prepare a variety of foods for your family,
consult a physician or registered dietitian for nutrition counseling. You may also
want to refer to the readings and organizations listed at the end of this fact sheet for
more information on healthy eating.
Carefully cut down on the amount of fat in your family's diet.
Reducing fat is a good way to cut calories without depriving your child of nutrients.
Simple ways to cut the fat in your family's diet include eating lowfat or nonfat dairy
products, poultry without skin and lean meats, and lowfat or fat-free breads and cereals.
Making small changes to the amount of fat in your family's diet is a good way to prevent
excess weight gain in children: however, major efforts to change your child's diet should
be supervised by a health professional. In addition, fat should not be restricted in the
diets of children younger than 2 years of age. After that age, children should gradually
adopt a diet that contains no more than 30 percent of calories from fat by the time the
child is about 5 years old.
Don't overly restrict sweets or treats.
While it is important to be aware of the fat, salt, and sugar content of the foods you
serve, all foods-even those that are high in fat or sugar-have a place in the diet, in
Guide your family's choices rather than dictate foods.
Make a wide variety of healthful foods available in the house. This practice will help
your children learn how to make healthy food choices.
Encourage your child to eat slowly.
A child can detect hunger and fullness better when eating slowly.
Eat meals together as a family as often as possible.
Try to make mealtimes pleasant with conversation and sharing, not a time for scolding
or arguing. If mealtimes are unpleasant, children may try to eat faster to leave the table
as soon as possible. They then may learn to associate eating with stress.
Involve children in food shopping and preparing meals.
These activities offer parents hints about children's food preferences, teach children
about nutrition, and provide children with a feeling of accomplishment. In addition,
children may be more willing to eat or try foods that they help prepare.
Plan for snacks.
Continuous snacking may lead to overeating, but snacks that are planned at specific
times during the day can be part of a nutritious diet, without spoiling a child's appetite
at mealtimes. You should make snacks as nutritious as possible, without depriving your
child of occasional chips or cookies, especially at parties or other social events. Below
are some ideas for healthy snacks.
|Fresh, frozen, or canned
vegetables and fruit served either plain or with lowfat or fat-free cheese or yogurt
Dried fruit, served with nuts or sunflower or pumpkin seeds
Breads and crackers made with enriched flour and whole grains, served with fruit spread or
Frozen desserts, such as nonfat or lowfat ice cream, frozen yogurt, fruit sorbet,
popsicles, water ice, and fruit juice bars
|*Children of preschool age can easily choke on foods that are hard to
chew, small and round, or sticky, such as hard vegetables, whole grapes, hard chunks of
cheese, rasins, nuts, and seeds, and popcorn. Its important to carefully select snacks for
children in this age group.
Discourage eating meals or snacks while watching TV.
Try to eat only in designated areas of your home, such as the dining room or kitchen.
Eating in front of the TV may make it difficult to pay attention to feelings of fullness,
and may lead to overeating.
Try not to use food to punish or reward your child.
Withholding food as a punishment may lead children to worry that they will not get
enough food. For example, sending children to bed without any dinner may cause them to
worry that they will go hungry. As a result, children may try to eat whenever they get a
chance. Similarly, when foods, such as sweets, are used as a reward, children may assume
that these foods are better or more valuable than other foods. For example, telling
children that they will get dessert if they eat all of their vegetables sends the wrong
message about vegetables.
Make sure your child's meals outside the home are balanced.
Find out more about your school lunch program, or pack your child's lunch to include a
variety of foods. Also, select healthier items when dining at restaurants.
Set a good example.
Children are good learners, and they learn best by example. Setting a good
example for your kids by eating a variety of foods and being physically active will teach
your children healthy lifestyle habits that they can follow for the rest of their lives.
||If you need to make changes to your family's eating and
exercise habits, but are finding it difficult, a registered dietitian (RD) may be able to
help. Your physician may be able to refer you to an RD, or you can call the National
Center for Nutrition and Dietetics of The American Dietetic Association at 800-366-1655
and ask for the name of an RD in your area.
If your efforts at home are
unsuccessful in helping your child reach a healthy weight and your physician determines
that your child's health is at risk unless he or she loses weight steadily, you may want
to consider a formal treatment program. To locate a weight-control program for your child,
you may want to contact a local university-based medical center. The Weight-control
Information Network (WIN), described at the end of this booklet, maintains a list of
nationwide university-based medical centers.
Look for the following characteristics when choosing a weight-control program for
your child. The program should:
- Be staffed with a variety of health professionals. The best programs may include RDs,
exercise physiologists, pediatricians or family physicians, and psychiatrists or
- Perform a medical evaluation of the child. Before being enrolled in a program, your
child's weight, growth, and health should be reviewed by a physician. During enrollment,
your child's weight, growth, and health should be monitored by a health professional at
- Focus on the whole family, not just the overweight child.
- Be adapted to the specific age and capabilities of the child. Programs for 4-year-olds
are different from those developed for children 8 or 12 years of age in terms of degree of
responsibility of the child and parents.
- Focus on behavioral changes.
- Teach the child how to select a variety of foods in appropriate portions.
- Encourage daily activity and limit sedentary activity, such as watching TV.
- Include a maintenance program and other support and referral resources to reinforce the
new behaviors and to deal with underlying issues that contributed to overweight.
The overall goal of a
successful treatment program should be to help the whole family focus on making healthy
changes to their eating and activity habits that they will be able to maintain throughout