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Four Steps for Helping an Overweight Child

For many parents, dealing with an overweight child is a delicate issue. These four steps can put you and your child on the right path to a healthier lifestyle.

    Be Supportive. An important first step is to let your overweight child know she's OK, whatever her weight. A child's feelings about herself often reflect her parents' feelings about her. For example, if your child gets the message that you are unhappy with the way she looks, that impacts how she feels about herself. If you accept your child at any weight, and emphasize her strengths (e.g., good grades, musical talent, leadership skills), she learns how to feel good about herself. Let your child know she can talk openly with you and share her concerns about her weight. This issue may come up when she is shopping for clothes, participating in an athletic event or donning a bathing suit when it's time to hit the beach or pool. Your child probably knows better than anyone else that her weight is an issue. For that reason, she needs your support, acceptance and encouragement.

    Focus On the Family. Don't set your overweight child apart because of his weight or make a special issue out of it. Instead, make gradual, healthful changes in the whole family's physical activity and eating habits. Family involvement helps to teach everyone healthful habits and does not single out the overweight child as "being on a diet." Changing the family environment provides your overweight child with the support he needs.

    Increase Your Family's Physical Activity. Regular physical activity, combined with good eating habits, is a must for promoting a healthy weight–and good health–among the whole family. Below are some simple ways to get the whole family moving:

  1. Be a role model for your children. If your children see you enjoying regular physical activity, they're more likely to get active and stay active for life.
  2. Plan family activities that are fun for everyone such as walking, dancing, biking or swimming. For example, schedule a walk with your family after dinner instead of watching TV. Make sure the activities you plan are done in a safe environment.
  3. Be sensitive to your child's needs. Overweight children may feel uncomfortable about participating in certain activities. Help your child find physical activities he enjoys and that aren't embarrassing or too difficult.
  4. Reduce the amount of time you and your family spend in sedentary activities such as watching TV or playing video games.
  5. Find ways for you and your family to be more active throughout the day. For example, walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, do some stretching during a work or school break, or encourage your child to walk to and from school, if possible.
  6. If your child likes structured sports activities or classes, sign him up and support his regular participation.


    Teach Your Family Healthy Eating Habits Right from the Start. Teaching good eating habits early and by example will help children develop a healthy attitude about food–that it's enjoyable, and required for energy to keep the body running right and to grow properly. Child-feeding expert Ellyn Satter, RD, recommends that parents provide children with the structure of regular meals and snacks, and choose the foods offered. Parents should allow children to choose what to eat from among the foods offered and how much. To learn more about nutrition for children, consult your child's doctor or a registered dietitian (RD).

See your doctor if you think your child has a serious weight problem.


Reviewed by the Kidnetic.com Scientific Advisory Panel, 2006