All children gain weight, and they do it in a fairly predictable way. Their growth rate, size and shape can vary quite a bit and still be considered normal, but several studies have helped us discover a pattern to normal weight gain. By comparing your child’s weight to this pattern, you can find out if he or she is growing normally. Although both too much and too little weight gain can be harmful to your child’s health; nowadays, parents and health professionals are more concerned about too much weight gain, and rightfully so. The number of overweight children is increasing at an alarming rate. It is important to know, therefore, when your child is gaining too much weight, too quickly, and what to do about it when this happens.
Most health professionals determine if a child’s weight is normal by using a BMI (Body Mass Index) for age growth chart. A BMI is a calculation based on a person’s height and weight. The result helps you decide if the person being measured is over, under or at normal weight. To calculate a BMI for your child, you can use the formula: weight (lbs.) ÷ height (in.) ÷ height (in.) x 703, or you can work with your pediatrician or a registered dietitian to get this information. Many websites have BMI calculators, also, and you can find these websites by simply googling “BMI calculator.”
Once you have a BMI, then it is plotted on a BMI for age growth chart. Growth charts can be downloaded at cdc.gov or obtained from your pediatrician or a registered dietitian. Also www.keepkidshealthy.com has a good explanation of how to use these charts. You can use these charts to see where your child falls on the growth curve. If he is between the 85th and 95th percentile for BMI for age, this means his BMI is larger than the BMI’s of 85-95 % of the children in his age group and he is at risk for being overweight. If his BMI is greater than the 95th percentile, then he has a BMI greater than 95 % of the children his age and is considered overweight. If this is the case, you and your child may need to seek weight counseling to make the specific lifestyle changes that need to be made.
Be aware, however, that it is not appropriate, in most cases, for a child to follow a weight reduction diet. It is better for him or her to learn a more healthful way of eating, to be more active and to gradually grow into his or her weight. If your pediatrician recommends that your child lose weight, this should be done gradually at a rate of 1-2 pounds per month.
Parents are in a strong position to help their children with weight problems. Teaching a child how to improve his way of eating and to be more active is best taught by the example of his parents. Studies have shown that children are more willing to put something into their mouths when they have seen their parents do it. Also, a child is much more likely to participate in active play or sports if his parents are participating and encouraging him. So, the first thing that you can do to help your child is to make sure you are modeling what you want your child to do. “Do as I say, not as I do” will probably not work when you are teaching eating habits and exercise.
In addition to providing a good example for your children, you can stock your kitchen with nutritious, low-calorie foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. The entire family needs these foods, whether or not they have a weight problem. An overweight child should not be singled out and forced to eat special “diet” foods like vegetables and whole grains while the rest of the family eat high-fat, high-calorie foods. Everyone could improve their health by eating these nutritious and, hopefully, appetizing so-called “diet” foods. Everyone also needs an occasional fun food. Fun foods can be low in calories and packed with nutrients, but if they are not, try to have them in the house occasionally, and serve them in small amounts. One way of making sure everyone is getting a good balance of nutritious foods, is to have regular meals and scheduled snacks, and to have the whole family eat in the kitchen together, without a TV.
Talking to your child about his weight struggles in a positive, encouraging way can be helpful. It is important to not become the “weight police” and make all food decisions for your child. You could sometimes offer him a choice between two healthy foods, or allow him to help you plan some of the meals and snacks. He can also help you prepare some nutritious recipes. Try to help you child distinguish between hunger and boredom. When your child tells you he is hungry, offer him a lower Calorie food like a cracker or piece of fruit. If he refuses these foods, he is more likely to be bored than hungry.
Scheduling regular family activities that involve physical exercise is also beneficial. Family walks, sports, swimming, and biking can be enjoyed by the whole family. Of course, some activities are more age-appropriate than others. But the main idea is to do something that involves moving, and to do it often.
TV and other screen time should be limited to no more than 2 hours per day. You may be surprised how hard it is to do this. So be prepared with some creative alternatives to playing computer games and watching TV. Almost any activity is better than watching TV. Studies have shown that you burn more calories sitting and reading, or playing a board game, than while watching TV. TV time rates pretty close to sleeping when it comes to using calories.
Helping your child to develop good, health-promoting habits is not easy. No part of meaningful parenting is. But, when you think about it, if you knew the cure to Diabetes, Heart Disease, Cancer, etc., you would want to share it with everyone, especially those you care about. Well, you do know the cure-prevention through eating well and being active; so have fun sharing it with your family.