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Nutrition Articles

Take a Good Look at Your Child's Weight

Nutrition News Flash

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Today so many people are overweight or obese that it is sometimes viewed as the norm. This is making it difficult for parents to recognize whether their own child has a weight problem. A recent study surveyed the parents of almost 300 children. 

  • Only 25% of the parents with an overweight child recognized that the child had a weight problem.
  • When the child was obese, one-third of the mothers and one-half of fathers indicated that the child’s weight was “about right”.
  • Parents who were overweight themselves were no better or worse at identifying a weight problem in their child.
Action Sparked
At well-child check ups, discuss weight issues with your child’s pediatrician. Seek out ways to involve the entire family in healthy eating habits and fitness routines. Check out these web sites for ideas:

International Food Information Council
National Dairy Council
American Heart Association
American Academy of Pediatrics
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • I have to wonder what kind of math we're using to determine what kids are obese. Every time I'm at one of my fourth graders activities or school function, I wonder where all these fat kids are. Most of my child's classmates and friends look normal to me.

    We live in a very safe suburb with walkable neighborhoods, very nice parks and playgrounds, an extensive rec sports program, and an above average school lunch program. Maybe that's the connection. - 12/1/2014 9:26:34 AM
  • FOXGLOVE999
    Personally, I feel like the obesity issue is completely overstated. It doesn't take normal variances into account, and is narrowly construed. As others have said, children will often gain weight prior to a growth spurt or puberty. This is normal and not a cause for concern.

    As for the food provided for by WIC, I would have to say they require healthy options, not low-carb options. Low-carb is not the accepted norm, why would they follow that? The cereals are low sugar, the bread whole wheat. - 9/25/2014 8:28:19 AM
  • My child is underweight. She has never been an eater and I used to call the doctor because she would not eat for an entire day. Luckily, the doctor told me to "relax and she'll eat when she is hungry". Times change. When I was a kid, I got shots for being underweight. Children were expected to be fat or they were considered sickly.

    That said, I think there is too much emphasis on kids' weight. HAVING AN OVERWEIGHT CHILD DOES NOT MAKE THE CASE FOR BAD PARENTS and in my case, focusing too much on weight is a bad thing. My 40 pound, 7 year old daughter saw me perpetually watching the scale and decided that she too was fat. I started the change to healthy, not skinny, lifestyle and she is doing better.

    Some kids are smaller, some are bigger and yeah, some have unhealthy weights. You can't lump them all into one category though. This article was a good start, but I wish it would have gone more into childhood eating disorders. - 4/4/2014 5:19:52 AM
  • As a parent of a six year old in the 91% percentile (obese) of her BMI range I have to say this article leaves a lot lacking in the concept of recognizing child obesity.

    First of all, I'm interested to know just *how* "overweight and/or obese" our young children are in this country. That's right, American weight statistic number crunchers - I want the *real* numbers. I want to know the *real* percent - and you guys aren't coughing it up!

    I do see a significant difference in kids today than when I was growing up - particularly around the waistline; however, when children like mine - a young lady who is heavily muscled all around from gymnastics activities but who's ribs and hip-bones are visible (not emaciated visible, but there) - is considered "obese" and set home from school with a (thankfully - because she can read and has a self-esteem) sealed envelope to explain what things we, as parents, should be doing at home to help her not be obese anymore then we have a problem recognizing obesity.

    I don't appreciate faulty math being used to indicate that her father and are some how failing. My daughter is sent out to play every day it is possible (above 45 and below 105 degrees and not raining buckets), is active in both gymnastics and softball, has adult role models for fitness - when I'm not the treadmill, she's on the stationary bike and I also attend a regular 4 day a week fitness class. Her father, who has limitations in breathing capacity due to surgical complications, engages in physical play often and as long as possible (catch, trampoline, chasing each other for the general fun of it).

    I grow a garden and she helps; there are very few vegetables that she abhors. She thinks a good snack is an apple and peanut butter, greek yogurt, or a stick of string cheese rather than the norm of cookies and candies. She drinks water throughout the day instead of fruit juice (with the exception of OJ with breakfast) and sodas are reserved as a "weekend only" item at one soda per day. We have home-cooked dinners nearly every ni... - 2/19/2014 9:49:00 AM
  • I have very strong feelings about this article. I am overweight and short, my husband is overweight and tall. My ten year old son is solid, not a lot of belly, but he's towards the top of his BMI range for his height, 95%. My daughter is solid, tall, broad-shouldered, and she's above the top, almost 100%. I think we have gotten away from bone mass and push one-size fits all with kids, and that's wrong. I push them to be more active, and that's helping, and we limit sugar, but they are never going to be petite little skinny people. I refuse to make their weight an issue at this point. - 3/29/2012 11:47:57 AM
  • As a parent of 2 young girls, I struggle with this article.

    As long as our kids are eating healthy and being active, why do we need to focus on their actual weight? There are enough pressures from society about what an "acceptable" weight is. Why do we need to bring it into their focus so early? Part of fixing the obesity problem is the mental perceptions and guilt that go along with eating in general. I don't want them to ever see themselves as anything but beautiful. So, in our house we do NOT associate food with our looks. You will never hear the word "diet" mentioned. Nor do we say things like "That will go straight to my hips..." or other references that might imply that the food we are eating will influence the LOOK of our bodies. We focus on how good healthy foods make us feel. For example, "Vegetables will give me energy so that I can run really fast." (My girls are 3 and 2 :) )

    We make sure that they are not denied anything, they have treats like anyone else, but we make sure that on the whole they are eating nutritiously and don't focus on how much they are eating. To go hand in hand with that they see my husband and I exercising and they want to join as well. So, we promote exercise as a way of building strong muscles and bones to keep us HEALTHY not THIN!

    Body image is a societal problem that I feel is contributing to the obesity crisis that we're facing as much as junk food is. Telling children that they are "fat" is just SO wrong in my opinion. - 3/29/2012 10:38:12 AM
  • My son's school district does a BMI test (based on age/height/weight
    ) every few years, using numbers based on national recommended guidelines. I know my son's not the most active, but my jaw hit the floor when he brought home a letter from the school district stating that he was overweight.
    Now, I did my own research, using the information they had used, and if my son had been born a month earlier, or if they had tested a week or so later, I think the numbers may have been different... but it was still an eye-opener. While he's still not as active as some of his peers, I do try to make it a point to go out and do something with him once a week, and to portion control his snacks, which is where I suspect a lot of his empty calories are coming from. - 3/29/2012 8:10:26 AM
  • Personal anecdote: When I was in middle and high school I weighted 160 pounds. I'm only 5 feet tall. I remember sitting in health class and looking at the BMI charts that state I should be under 127. I went home in tears. I thought I was the fattest most unhealthy person. A few years later I went to my doctor and had a full health check-up. My doctor actually measured my body fat and I was told that because I have higher than normal level of muscle mass I can't possibly weigh that little without losing muscle. She told me a healthy range was 150-160 pounds.

    I understand that a lot of young kids are overweight/obese. I understand that it's a big problem in the U.S. But as others have said, I encourage people to focus on 'healthy' and not 'thin.' I also encourage parents to look at their child's body type. If they're more muscular have them actually measured to get a realistic idea for your child. I only recommend this for older kids who can understand the importance of accurate information.) BMI can be a good guide if you're in the norm. But some people aren't. You don't your child to have a bad outlook of themselves when they're actually in a healthy weight range. - 7/8/2011 10:01:33 PM
  • Another sad item, when my son was a baby I heard it non stop from doctors that he was too skinny (I breastfed exclusively for the first 5 months). Even now, at age 5, doctors still look at him and say he's too skinny. They have even tested him for thyroid problems and other metabolic issues. (the bloodwork results came out normal by the way)
    Recently I heard of yet another family that lives near us with the same issues. They're daughter is lean and so the hospital is putting their child through the same testing.
    So it almost seems as if children who are lean get tested non stop but children who are heavier are "normal". Makes no sense to me.
    - 1/6/2011 8:47:48 AM
  • I think the childhood obesity issue is always a sticky issue . . . children's bodies are much different than ours, specifically because they're always growing. Bodies often store up fat and other nutritional needs before growth spurts and to prepare for other changes and needs (bodies are pretty dang smart that way).

    So, to me, it would seem to be important that we look into what the child is eating and why . . . if they're hungry (especially for real and healthy foods), then they're hungry and the body is trying to cue you into the fact that they need the food and the build-up of nutrition and sometimes even fat . . . if they're eating out of boredom, a sweet tooth or emotions, then it may be important to educate them more or find other ways to find fulfillment for them.

    I don't argue that it's important to teach children healthy habits, but there are many times when I've seen children put on enough weight that they would be considered "overweight" or "obese" according to the BMI, and then have an extreme growth spurt in the next few years that completely even them out. . . .

    I worry that we can lead children to develop fat complexes during that time and only reinforce negative emotions that may create restrictive and unhealthy eating patterns down the road. All bodies are different and change a lot during childhood. . . .I think it's best to keep children exposed to healthy foods and encourage them to listen to their body to know when they're really hungry and full and what foods make them feel good and provide them with more energy. Then they won't feel policed and restricted, but empowered and appreciated. - 4/2/2010 7:41:34 PM
  • Of course, "overweight" is one pound over the BMI. And this article doesn't tell us the age ranges of the kids, nor what percentage are significantly over that line. She doesn't do it so much anymore but when my daughter was a baby and about to go through a growth spurt, she'd get fatter first, then grow. I don't think she ever exceeded the BMI, however. And she doesn't now.

    I never got her started on fruit juice nor habitually on milk. She gets her calcium from cheese and other foods and prefers water as a beverage. I have never bothered with a low-fat diet for her but I do give her nutrient-dense foods. I believe in nutrient efficiency rather than worrying whether or not she gets enough of this food group or that one.

    The USDA released a memo to WIC offices some years ago about how kids should not drink straight fruit juice because it's basically sugar with vitamin C added; you might as well be drinking Kool-Aid because all the good ingredients, pretty much, were removed in the juicing process. Has that stopped them from paying for juice through WIC? Bite your tongue. I quit the program, even though I qualified for it, after realizing that fully half the menu was based on sugar. Milk has lactose, juice is all sugar, they allowed sweetened peanut butter and don't even get me started about cold cereal, we'll be here all day. (And don't they offer bread too? I don't remember now. Sheesh.)

    It isn't just fast food--the government is bankrolled to give us bad advice. "Feed your kids a low-fat diet." Mmkay... here you go. Oops, the kids are getting fat. "They're eating too much. Cut back their portions." But they're growing! "I don't care. Eating too much food is what makes you fat." And we wonder why kids have ADHD and other problems. We're supposed to be feeding them smaller amounts of the wrong foods.

    Been looking at how people did things in the old days before food was overwhelmingly made in factories and the government started telling us how to eat. I believe I will be starting both my daughter and mysel... - 1/18/2009 11:39:45 AM
  • Parents truly are their children's first teachers. Discuss nutrition with your children even from a young age. Go over the food groups together and get children involved in reading ingredients, don't just read the ingredients discuss them and where the ingredients fit on the food chart. There's alot to be said about getting back to real family meals and talking around the table with children. Let them be involved in the menu making for the family, let them choose a fresh fruit or vegetable to add to the menu. Let the children know that what is being ate is helping them to grow properly, to build muscles and all they need to have discuss the importance of healthy foods with the children. Much of what children learn is through learned behavior, if they see the adults around them munching a bag of chips the children are going to want the bag of chips too, if they grow up with adults around them snacking on fresh fruit and vegetables the children are going to want to snack on those too. Choose your foods wisely, perhaps picture your child being your age even and deciding the path you want for them. Before you grab something that doesn't fit in with your plan to be fit, if it's not something you would eat yourself on your journey to being healthy then don't buy it to feed it to children. I've learned alot from Sparkpeople on what is healthy to eat and what isn't. Some of the foods that were served while I was younger that I thought were healthy and good for me really aren't the wisest choices to make... help yourself and your children by learning what really is healthy and what isn't, don't depend on the schools to teach your children these important lessons, start them early at home on the proper path and stay on that proper path your children will be more likely to follow the healthier lifestyle when they grow up accustomed to it. You'll be giving your whole family a great gift by instilling the best values early on that will stay with them throughout their lives to be shared with their own children one day. - 1/18/2009 9:46:14 AM
  • I think that the parents need to talk to their children about being "healthy," rather than "thin." If you say "healthy," then you're not saying that your child is fat. Make it a positive. - 12/13/2008 1:21:07 PM
  • Another factor to keep in mind is that healthy eating habits are formed while growing up. When I was a kid, my mother never made family dinners, making excuses that she was too busy. She left us to eat whatever was at home- often there was nothing in the fridge but fattening frozen foods, condiments, and white pasta & other junk food. As adults, my younger sister and brother do not cook for themselves but rely on frozen meals or just snack on foods. You don't get nutrition that way.

    If people choose to have kids, they need to be held responsible for teaching their kids about how to plan healthy meals. Otherwise, they shouldn't be having kids. Kids will not just "grow out of" being fat. You teach a kid while young that donuts are an ok choice for breakfast, they'll eat that junk as adults and pass that on to their kids. Someone doesn't grow up eating junk for breakfast and decide as an adult "i'm going to have whole grains and yogurt now" Observe people at the grocery store... you often see extremely overweight people with carts loaded with fattening processed foods with their screaming overweight child wanting the fruit snacks...

    It's like that saying in computer programming... garbage in and garbage out. - 11/3/2008 3:26:38 PM
  • I agree with the article completely and see it daily. I know from experience though; that if a doctor tells the parents that the child is too heavy the parents will take offense and they will not return to the doctors office. This has to be handled very carefully. The doctor can show the parents where the child is on the growth chart. The doctor can suggest different activities that the parents can do with the children. They can not say that the child is too fat though or the parents will complain about the doctors manner and the child will never be seen by the doctor again. If the child's life is in danger; then the doctor can contact the child welfare system and they will intervene. - 11/3/2008 9:45:16 AM

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