Published: May 3, 2007
Updated: July 19, 2010
Many parents ask me if their child is overweight, or at risk of becoming overweight, and they want to know what to do about it. The most important thing I tell them: Obesity is a family event, not an individual event.
Some people within the family may be more prone to gaining weight, while others might seem to stay slim no matter what they eat -- but to support a child in achieving a healthy weight, the entire family may need to change its ways. Healthy eating, regular exercise, and other good habits will bring about positive results for everyone.
Lesley Stanford, a registered dietitian at Duke Children’s Health Center, tells us more about what parents can do to help children achieve a healthy weight.
-- Dennis Clements, MD, PhD, MPH
If your child is overweight or at risk of becoming overweight and you want to take action, start with a visit to your child’s pediatrician -- he or she can give you many of the tools you’ll need to help.
The visit may begin with a look at your child’s growth chart. The pediatrician can use the height and weight measurements to calculate your child’s Body Mass Index (BMI) -- a measurement used to assess whether the child is underweight, normal, overweight, or obese, based on guidelines for children adapted from the Centers for Disease Control (see chart below).
|Classification||BMI for Age|
|Underweight||Less than 5th percentile|
|Normal||5th percentile to less than 85th percentile|
|Overweight||85th percentile to less than 95th percentile|
|Obese||Greater than or equal to 95th percentile|
In some cases, the best goal may not be to lose weight, but to allow your child to grow into his or her current weight. Keeping your child’s weight stable is often the right advice.
If your child needs weight management, your doctor will help you develop a program to help your child reach a healthy weight goal.
Over the last 25 years, the rate of obesity has doubled for children ages six to 11 and has tripled for teens. Today about 10 percent of two- to five-year-olds and 15 percent of six- to 19-year-olds are overweight.
The Academy of Pediatrics described the rise in childhood obesity as an “unprecedented burden” on children’s health.
Obesity in childhood has been associated with hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, and psychosocial and orthopedic problems. Overweight teens have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.
In North Carolina, the numbers are more alarming than the national average. Childhood obesity is an epidemic in this state. Data from the 2004 NC Nutrition and Physical Activity Surveillance System (NC-NPASS) show that childhood obesity affects:
If your child is overweight or at risk for being overweight, look closely at what your family routines are. Do you eat out more than you did last year? Do you buy chips and cookies and other high-fat snacks each trip to the grocery store? Do you rely on fast food?
If you and your child’s doctor determine that weight has become an issue for your child, it’s not too late to start working on healthy habits. Be a positive role model. While weight management is hard work, it is possible.
Follow these tips to help keep your child from becoming overweight.
-- Lesley Stanford, MS, RD, CSP, is a pediatric nutritionist in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. She is board-certified as an expert in pediatric nutrition by the American Dietetic Association.
-- Dennis Clements, MD, PhD, MPH, is the chief of primary care pediatrics at Duke Children's Hospital.