A recent survey by Nemours Children’s Health System, the Delaware Survey of Children’s Health (DSCH), showed that 36 percent of children in Delaware are overweight or obese. From the survey, we also learned that there’s a gap between how parents perceive their children’s weight and the reality of their actual weight.
According to the DSCH findings, 80 percent of all overweight children and 53 percent of all obese children are considered by their parents to be “normal weight.”
A key first step in helping children achieve and maintain a healthy weight is to understand exactly what that means and why it’s so important to their overall health.
How Do I Know if My Child’s at a Healthy Weight?
Calculate your child’s body mass index (BMI).
BMI is a measure of your weight compared to your height. Calculating BMI on your own can be complicated, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created an easy to use child and teen BMI percentile calculator.
Kids ages 2 to 19 fall into one of four weight categories:
- Underweight: BMI below the 5th percentile
- Normal weight: BMI at the 5th and less than the 85th percentiles
- Overweight: BMI at the 85th and below the 95th percentiles
- Obese: BMI at or above 95th percentile
BMI calculations aren’t used to estimate body fat in babies and young toddlers. For kids younger than 2, doctors use weight-for-length charts to determine how a baby’s weight compares with his or her length. Rapid weight gain in children under 2 is a risk factor for being overweight or obesity later in childhood.
BMI isn’t a perfect measure of body fat and can be misleading in some situations. It’s important to remember that BMI is usually a good indicator — but it’s not a direct measurement — of body fat.
- A muscular person may have a high BMI without being overweight (extra muscle adds to body weight).
- Also, BMI might be difficult to interpret during puberty, when kids are experiencing periods of rapid growth.
Achieving and Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Kids who are overweight or obese are at risk for developing medical problems that affect their present and future health, as well as their quality of life.
If you’re worried that your child or teen may be overweight, make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can assess your child’s eating and activity habits and make suggestions on how to make positive changes. The doctor also may decide to screen for some of the medical conditions that can be associated with obesity.
Depending on your child’s BMI (or weight-for-length measurement), age, and health, your doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian for additional advice and, possibly, a comprehensive weight management program.
The key to keeping kids of all ages at a healthy weight is taking a whole-family approach. So make healthy eating and exercise a family affair:
- Get your kids involved by letting them help you plan and prepare healthy meals.
- Take them along when you go grocery shopping so they can learn how to make good food choices.
- Talk to your kids about the importance of eating well and being active. But make it a family affair that will become second nature for everyone.
- “Practice what you preach.” If you eat well, exercise regularly, and incorporate healthy habits into your family’s daily life, you’re modeling a healthy lifestyle for your kids that will last.
- Most of all, let your kids know you love them — no matter what their weight — and that you want to help them be happy and healthy.
Healthy Weight Tips for Kids of All Ages
Birth to age 1
In addition to its many health benefits, breastfeeding may help prevent excessive weight gain. Though the exact mechanism isn’t known, breastfed babies may be more able to control their own intake and follow their own internal hunger cues.
Ages 1 to 5
Start good habits early. Help shape food preferences by offering a variety of healthy foods. Encourage kids’ natural tendency to be active, and help them build on developing skills.
Ages 6 to 12
Encourage kids to be physically active every day, whether through an organized sports team or a pick-up game of soccer during recess. Keep your kids active at home, too, through everyday activities like walking and playing in the yard. Let them be more involved in making good food choices, such as packing lunch.
Ages 13 to 18
Teens like fast food, but try to steer them toward healthier choices like grilled chicken sandwiches, salads, and smaller sizes. Teach them how to prepare healthy meals and snacks at home. Encourage teens to be active every day.
Cut down on TV, computer, and video game time and discourage eating while watching the tube. Serve a variety of healthy foods and eat meals together as often as possible. Encourage kids to have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, limit sugar-sweetened beverages, and eat breakfast every day.