Skip to content

Food & Recipes

Font Size

Should You Put Your Kids on a Diet?

Experts describe the best ways to keep children from gaining too much weight.
By
WebMD Feature

Food, food, food. The ads, the signs, the daily stories about an epidemic of childhood obesity. Often overweight adults have (pardon the expression) pounds of baggage about teasing, discrimination, and "dieting."

So what is a parent to do if one or more kids seem to be putting on a few more pounds than they seem to need?

Bottom line: All children -- not just overweight ones -- would benefit from eating good quality, healthy, fresh food to use for fuel so they can be active and perform well in daily life.

"Usually, I see several in a family who are above ideal weight," Kattia Corrales-Yauckoes, RD, a nutrition and diabetes educator at the Harvard-affiliated Joslin Diabetes Center, tells WebMD. "But I don't prescribe diets."

Hunger Plays a Key Role

Jean Antonello, RN, author of Naturally Thin Kids: How to Protect Your Kids from Obesity and Eating Disorders for Life, tells WebMD that most kids today are predisposed to gain weight. "Their bodies have a higher famine sensitivity," she says. This means their bodies are more likely to store unburned "fuel" as fat.

"Fat is a survival tool," she says. "Some stressor makes a kid accumulate extra weight. After years of studying this, I have decided that this stressor is hunger. When a kid goes hungry ['No eating between meals!'], he or she tends to overeat, crave sweets and fatty foods, and engage in what we call makeup eating. Going hungry slows metabolism and increases appetite."

Antonello's answer is to offer children high-quality food. This starts with newborns, who are now fed "on demand," where they used to be kept on a four-hour schedule. (Evidence that breastfeeding can prevent obesity in adulthood is not compelling, Corrales-Yauckoes notes.)

Being fed on demand is normal for babies, Antonello contends. And also for 8-year-olds, 14-year-olds, 22-year-olds -- and everyone.

Some toddlers don't even like to eat much -- they pick or scrunch up their faces at everything for a day or two. "This may lead parents to offer sweet or fatty stuff," she says. "Don't. A toddler can get along on a little for a while. Just offer small amounts -- a tablespoon per year of age is plenty of an item for a small child."

Healthy Noshing

The key is to nosh on decent-quality foods, which Antonello defines as salads, veggies, fruits, nuts, lean meats, and grains. "French fries are borderline, because of how they are prepared," she says. "Once in a while borderline foods are OK. Then there are the pleasure foods, which are cakes, cookies, ice cream, and high-fat, high-sugar items." These should be a treat, not a normal snack.

"Kids eat crap!" Pat Lyons, RN, MA, who is on the steering committee of the Center for Weight and Health Training at the University of California Berkeley, exclaims to WebMD. "The old 'eat less, exercise more' thing doesn't work for adults. Why should it work for kids?"

Today on WebMD

Four spoons with mustards
What condiments are made of and how much to use.
salmon and spinach
How to get what you need.
 
grilled veggies
Easy ideas for dinner tonight.
Greek Salad
Health benefits, what you can eat and more.
 

WebMD Recipe Finder

Browse our collection of healthy, delicious recipes, from WebMD and Eating Well magazine.



bread
Recipes
soup
Recipes
 
roasted chicken
Recipes
grilled steak
Video
 

Loaded with tips to help you avoid food allergy triggers.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

vegetarian sandwich
Recipes
fresh vegetables
Recipes
 
smoothie
fitArticle
Foods To Boost Mens Heath Slideshow
Slideshow