School Age Children Health: Overweight

Over the past 30 years, the rate of overweight children in the United States has been growing at a startling rate. Indeed, 10% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 years, and 15% of those aged 6 to 19 years are currently overweight. The rates are even higher for African American and Hispanic children. What’s worse, those numbers double once you account for those children at risk of becoming overweight. The situation is so dire the Surgeon General recently issued a “Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity Overweight in Children and Adolescents”

But exactly what does it mean for a child to be “overweight”? And what can parents do to help their overweight children learn healthier lifestyles?

What is Overweight?

Your child is considered overweight if his body mass index (BMI) is on or above the 95th percentile for his age and gender. BMI combines your child’s height with his weight to estimate how much body fat he has. To calculate your child’s BMI, divide his weight by his height squared (w/h²).

Generally speaking, a BMI of between 18 and 27 is considered healthy. If your child has a BMI of between 27 and 32 she is considered to be at risk of becoming overweight, while one of greater than 32 is considered overweight.

Of course, that does not mean that the reading is always one hundred percent accurate. In fact, since muscle weighs more than fat, a very muscular person might have a higher BMI than someone with a higher percentage of body fat. And, since a child’s growth can occur at different stages, it can sometimes be difficult to know if your child is in fact at an unhealthy weight.

If you think your child might be overweight, consult with your health care professional.

How do Children Become Overweight

There are a variety of reasons why a child might become overweight. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Lack of sufficient physical exercise (particularly in teens)
  • Unhealthy eating patterns and diets
  • Genetics
  • Lifestyle (many children lead inactive lifestyles that feature sedentary activities such as television and video games)

How Can I Help My Child Lead a Healthier Lifestyle?

There are many things parents can do to help their children lead healthier lifestyles. Most importantly, it’s important to be a positive role model for your child. If your child sees you enjoying a healthy lifestyle that includes nutritious foods and regular activity, he will be more likely to continue this tradition in his own life.

Other suggestions for encouraging good eating and exercise habits include:

  • Plan fun activities your whole family can participate in, such as baseball, ice skating, and swimming
  • Encourage your child to participate in a variety of team sports – not only do these encourage physical activity, but they also teach children about how to work cooperatively with others
  • Limit time spent in front of the television and computer to no more than 2 hours per day
  • Prepare healthy meals and eat them together as a family
  • Encourage water over fruit juices and soda
  • Provide your child with healthy snacks, such as nuts, fruits and vegetables
  • Keep your fridge full with healthy options your child can reach for when he’s hungry
  • Always encourage your child to eat breakfast, as this can prevent overeating at lunch time and help keep your child alert during school

On the other hand, there are also certain behaviors and activities you should avoid, including:

  • Using food as a reward or punishment
  • Placing your child on a heavily restrictive diet
  • Eating in front of the television, as this promotes mindless overeating
  • Encouraging your child to clear his plate - let him decide when he's full

Finally, it’s also important not to make your child’s weight a major issue – overweight children normally don’t need to be reminded that they need to lose weight, so be sure to emphasize your child’s positive qualities. A child with a healthy self-esteem is more likely to be motivated to get healthy.