Take a Good Look at Your Child's Weight

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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Member Comments

Thank you for the article. Report
I'd like to add, just because of my own experience:

PLEASE do keep an eye on your child's weight--and please check for underweight as well as overweight. That is, if the child looks overly thin--don't just assume they're "in good shape," healthy. Yes, they may just be naturally thin, but it is never natural to have obvious ribs scaling the front and sides of your chest, protruding collarbones, sunken cheeks, and tendons sticking out of your neck for dear life. If your child looks sickly thin, or as if they have lost weight...I beg all parents to not let it go, assume the child is just going through a "growth spurt," or be glad that the child "doesn't have a weight problem." I was secretly and severely anorexic for my whole adolescence (ages 11-16), and I was able to get away with it. Back then, I was terrified that my parents would catch me because I was so addicted to my disorder, and losing it would have shattered the whole inner world I had built for myself. But now I realize how much I was suffering, and I wouldn't want any other child to go so long without help--almost to the point of death, as I did. Don't let your children get away with wearing very baggy clothing or long sleeves all the time, even in summer, as if they're hiding their bodies--don't smile and assume they're okay or "modest; you're such a good girl"--don't keep your mouth shut. Ask about it. If your child doesn't have any reproductive development by the time they hit their late teens, don't assume they're just a "late bloomer." Force them to go to the doctor, even if they yell and scream and insist that "they're fine"--
Don't assume your child is "fine" just because they smile and act cheerful...don't assume they just have a small appetite or that they just love to eat tiny amounts of dressing-less salad for dinner...don't assume they're eating more than that when you're not looking...don't assume they have no issues because their grades are perfect or because they never do anything "wrong..." ... Report
BMI is a load of nonsense for adults. Let alone inflicting it upon children. Report
Never focus on a child's weight. Under or over, it establishes unhealthy mindsets, and body image. I was a stick at the age of 9, and still weighed 11-20 pounds more than other girls because I was taller and muscular. It made me horribly self-conscious that even though I was physically skinnier, they weighed less. I felt like a cow. The school weigh ins were deeply humiliating, and shame inducing aside from the fact that I always passed my fitness tests.

Teach health, nutrition, and activity. Leave weight, BMI, and size out of it. Report
This and other articles made me paranoid that my son was overweight. My daughter is a toothpick & on the low end of normal. However, my son is built a little more solid. I asked the doctor if he was overweight & she laughed at me (nicely, of course). She said he has the pre-pubescent spread (he's 9) and it's totally normal. She even said that he's not even close to being overweight. I still can't help but wonder/worry if he is getting overweight though. How can you tell? All kids are built & grow differently. Report
Either this is a very small article with no information on how to find out what an overweight child is, or my browser didn't load the whole article.
Three of the four links actually went somewhere, but not to any information about overweight kids. I suppose I could do all the research myself, but why not have it in the article? Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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... Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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.


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.