What is overweight children and teens?

Overweight Children and Teens
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When your child is overweight: Overview

If your child is overweight, your doctor may recommend that you make changes in your family's eating and exercise habits. A child who weighs too much may develop serious health problems. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. A healthy diet and more exercise can help your child have better health and more energy so that your child can do better at school and enjoy more activities.

It may help to know that you don't have to make huge changes at once. Change takes time. Start by making small changes in eating habits and exercise as a family. Weight loss diets aren't recommended for most children. The best way to help your child stay at a healthy weight is to increase your child's activity level.

If you have questions about how to make changes to your family's eating habits, ask your doctor about seeing a registered dietitian. A dietitian can help you and your child develop healthier eating habits.

How do you know if your child is overweight?

"Overweight" and "at risk of overweight" are sometimes used to refer to children who weigh more than expected. Doctors use the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts or the body mass index (BMI) to measure a child's weight compared to his or her height.

If you are concerned that your child is—or could become—overweight, talk with your doctor about your child's growth and medical history.

Medical and family history

Your doctor will ask about things such as:

  • Your child's weight over time. This can show if your child has had an unusual change in growth.
  • Your child's diet and physical activity.
  • What may have started the weight gain. It could be an illness, family crisis or change, or medicine.
  • A family history of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or gallstones.
  • Sleeping problems your child may have, such as sleep apnea.
  • Past efforts to manage weight.

Physical exam and tests

Your doctor will look for reasons for your child's weight gain. These may include conditions such as hypothyroidism and Cushing's syndrome. Your doctor also will look at emotional causes, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

During a physical exam, your doctor will check your child's health and look for early signs of problems, including:

  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Type 2 diabetes or high blood sugar levels.

Your child also may have blood tests to look at problems with the adrenal glands and the thyroid. These tests look for the cause of being overweight as well as problems from being overweight.

How can you care for your child who is overweight?

Make healthy changes as a family. Have a regular meal schedule, and eat together as much as possible. Avoid power struggles over food. Serve healthy foods, and let your child choose which of those foods and how much to eat. Limit screen time, and make physical activity a fun part of daily family life.

Teens: Overweight? You're in Charge

What health problems can cause weight gain in children?

Sometimes a health problem can cause a child to gain weight. These include rare problems such as Prader-Willi syndrome, hypothyroidism, and Cushing's syndrome. Depression, anxiety, and eating disorders also can lead to weight gain in children.

Helping a child who is overweight cope socially and emotionally

Children who are overweight are especially at risk of being teased and feeling alone. This can cause low self-esteem and depression.

You can help your child have greater health, confidence, and self-esteem.

  • Avoid talking about your child's weight.

    Instead, talk in terms of your child's health, activity level, and other healthy lifestyle choices. How you talk about your child's body has a big impact on your child's self-image.

  • Be a good role model.

    Have a healthy attitude about food and activity. Even if you struggle with how you feel about your own body, avoid talking in front of your child about "being fat" and "needing to diet." Talk about and make the same healthy lifestyle choices you'd like for your child.

  • Encourage activities, such as sports and theater.

    Physical activity helps build physical and emotional confidence. Try different types of sports and activities until you find one that your child likes. Theater can help children find strength and confidence, even if they don't feel it at first.

  • Encourage social involvement.

    Community, church, and school activities build social skills and confidence.

  • Help your child eat well.

    Provide healthy food choices. Consider seeing a registered dietitian for help, such as new food ideas.

  • Don't let a child tease another child about weight.

    Talk to teachers and counselors, if you need to.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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