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Childhood Overweight and Obesity

— U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Updated on Apr 15, 2011

What Are Overweight and Obesity?

The terms "overweight" and "obesity" refer to a person's overall body weight and where the extra weight comes from. Overweight is having extra body weight from muscle, bone, fat, and/or water. Obesity is having a high amount of extra body fat. The most useful measure of overweight and obesity is the body mass index (BMI). BMI is based on height and weight and is used for adults, children, and teens.

Millions of Americans and people worldwide are overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese puts you at risk for many diseases and conditions. The more body fat that you carry around and the more you weigh, the more likely you are to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems, certain kinds of cancers, sleep apnea, social discrimination and asthma.

A person's weight is a result of many factors. These factors include environment, family history and genetics, metabolism (the way your body changes food and oxygen into energy), behavior or habits, and other factors.

Certain things, like family history, can't be changed. However, other thingslike a person's lifestyle habitscan be changed. You can help prevent or treat overweight and obesity if you:

  • Follow a healthful diet, while keeping your calorie needs in mind
  • Are physically active
  • Limit the time you spend being physically inactive

What can I do as a parent or guardian to help prevent childhood overweight?

To help your child maintain a healthy weight:

  • Balance the calories your child consumes from foods and beverages with the calories your child uses through physical activity and normal growth.
  • Remember that the goal for overweight children and teens is to reduce the rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Children and teens should NOT be placed on a weight reduction diet without the consultation of a health care provider.Balance Calories: Help Kids Develop Healthy Eating Habits. One part of balancing calories is to eat foods that provide adequate nutrition and an appropriate number of calories. You can help children learn to be aware of what they eat by developing healthy eating habits, looking for ways to make favorite dishes healthier, and reducing calorie-rich temptations.

Encourage healthy eating habits. There's no great secret to habits:

  • Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products.
  • Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products.
  • Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein.
  • Serve reasonably-sized portions.
  • Encourage your family to drink lots of water.
  • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Limit consumption of sugar and saturated fat.

Remember that small changes every day can lead to a recipe for success!

Look for ways to make favorite dishes healthier. The recipes that you may prepare regularly, and that your family enjoys, with just a few changes can be healthier and just as satisfying. For new ideas about how to add more fruits and vegetables to your daily diet check out the recipe database from the FruitsandVeggiesMatter.gov. This database enables you to find tasty fruit and vegetable recipes that fit your needs.

Remove calorie-rich temptations! Although everything can be enjoyed in moderation, reducing the calorie-rich temptations of high-fat and high-sugar, or salty snacks can also help your children develop healthy eating habits. Instead only allow your children to eat them sometimes, so that they truly will be treats! Here are examples of easy-to-prepare, low-fat and low-sugar treats that are 100 calories or less:

  • A medium-size apple
  • A medium-size banana
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup grapes
  • 1 cup carrots, broccoli, or bell peppers with 2 tbsp. hummus

Balance Calories: Help Kids Stay Active. Another part of balancing calories is to engage in an appropriate amount of physical activity and avoid too much sedentary time. In addition to being fun for children and teens, regular physical activity has many health benefits, including:

  • Strengthening bones
  • Decreasing blood pressure
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Helping with weight management

Help kids stay active. Children and teens should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week, preferably daily. Remember that children imitate adults. Start adding physical activity to your own daily routine and encourage your child to join you.

Some examples of moderate intensity physical activity include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Playing tag
  • Jumping rope
  • Playing soccer
  • Swimming
  • Dancing

Reduce sedentary time. In addition to encouraging physical activity, help children avoid too much sedentary time. Although quiet time for reading and homework is fine, limit the time your children watch television, play video games, or surf the web to no more than 2 hours per day. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television viewing for children age 2 or younger. Instead, encourage your children to find fun activities to do with family members or on their own that simply involve more activity.

Make better choices at fast food restaurants. There are times when most of us are going to eat fast food because it's quick and easy. That's why, when you DO eat fast food, it's so important to make the best choices you can.

Outlook

Reaching and staying at a healthy weight is a long-term challenge for people who are overweight or obese. But it also can be a chance to lower your risk of other serious health problems. With the right treatment and motivation, it's possible to lose weight and lower your long-term disease risk.

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