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Health & Parenting

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Helping Your Child Reach a Healthy Weight

Think your kid is overweight? Focus on creating healthy habits for the entire family.
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

A 10-year-old boy came into my office last week and promptly asked, "Am I too chubby?" His mother added, "I read about BMIs as a way to determine if someone is overweight. What is a BMI anyway? What does it mean?"

The body mass index, BMI for short, is a calculation that uses height and weight to estimate how much body fat a child has. The result is then compared with those of kids of the same age and gender to determine if the child falls within a healthy weight range. (You can use an online BMI tool to check your child.)

It's worth doing, because a child who is overweight is not only at higher risk for diabetes, hip fractures, obesity as an adult, and other health problems, but his happiness is in jeopardy as well -- as my young patient illustrates. You might think a child doesn't worry about body size until he reaches his teens, but I've noticed younger children are also concerned. In fact, a recent KidsHealth poll found that more than half of kids ages 9 to 13 said they were stressed about their weight.

When a Child Is Worried About Weight

Watch your child for signs of distress. Perhaps your daughter is overly attentive to how she looks, saying things like "My tummy looks big," or asking, "Are my thighs fat?" Maybe your son avoids clothing that exposes his body, such as swim trunks, or wants to skip school activities.

Take these cues seriously. Whether it's you or your child who is concerned, see your doctor. She can calculate your child's BMI and screen him for illnesses that are linked to being overweight. She can also help you find ways to make lifestyle changes that improve your whole family's health.

Then, refocus the conversation. Tell your child it's not about how he looks or his body shape but about being healthy. Explain that a person with a healthy body can run faster, be a stronger soccer player, do well at school, and feel better and happier -- and how good eating habits, physical activity, and enough sleep all help.

The boy in my office did turn out to be overweight. I said this just meant he needed to have healthier habits. We talked about what he and his family could do to improve their health and fitness. It worked -- when I saw him several months later, he was a happier, healthier boy.

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