Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 08, 2021

Childhood obesity is on the rise in the U.S. Children who are overweight face more health risks than children who maintain a healthy weight based on their height. Learn how you can encourage a child who is overweight.

Skip the Diet

You may be tempted to put your child who is overweight on a diet to lose weight. This is not a good idea unless the diet is recommended and monitored by your child’s pediatrician. Diets can lead to restrictive eating and hinder your child’s growth and development. A diet may make your child feel self-conscious and discouraged.‌

Healthy food choices. Instead of introducing diet foods, you can encourage your child who is overweight to prioritize healthy foods. When you establish a foundation of healthy eating, there is less emphasis on foods full of fat and sugar. Encourage your child to eat:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains 
  • Low-fat or non-fat dairy like milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Lean meat like chicken and fish
  • Other proteins like beans and lentils‌

Hydration. Trade out juice and soda for water. Sugar hiding in fruit juice and soda can add up quickly and lead to weight gain. Encourage your child to drink enough water each day so they're hydrated. This aids in digestion and helps promote better overall health.

Focus on the Positive

If you worry about your child’s weight, you may be tempted to focus on the negatives. Examples of harmful weight-related comments include:

  • Saying no to all sweets or fatty foods
  • Talking about how much your child is eating
  • Commenting on weight gain‌
  • Pointing out a lack of activity‌

A place and time for treats. It’s possible to turn these negative comments into positive encouragement. Instead of saying no to sweets and fatty foods, offer healthy alternatives. Offer your child a sense of control over their diet. Involve them in deciding how treats and fatty foods are incorporated into your lifestyle. For example, you may have pizza night on Mondays or a sweet treat on Fridays after school.

Portion sizes. Don’t just tell your child they are eating too much. Talk about portions and measure food together so you can both learn about serving sizes. Make it fun to try and get enough healthy foods in your meals and snacks each day.‌

Avoid weight talk. Your child’s health is more than a number on the scale. Try not to talk about weight gain or loss because this can lead to body image issues. Your child may hit a natural growth spurt and gain weight. They may make healthy changes and not see the scale move. Save these conversations for doctor visits. Instead, encourage your child by praising healthy choices.‌

Getting physical. Exercise is a great way to improve your child’s health and aid in weight loss. But exercise should not be treated as a punishment. For example, don’t tell your child they have to exercise because they ate something unhealthy. Similarly, don’t offer a treat to your child “only if” they complete a certain amount of physical activity.‌

If your child is overweight, it may take time to build up endurance for exercise. Start slow and encourage your child by participating in activities with them. Ideas include:

  • Throwing a Frisbee in the backyard
  • Walking around the neighborhood
  • Hiking a nearby trail
  • Riding bicycles‌
  • Playing on a playground

Making a Lifestyle Change

Encouraging your child who is overweight is about more than losing weight. You want to help build a foundation of healthy lifestyle habits for your child. They can learn to see the bigger picture of their health and make smart decisions.‌

Other health benefits. Your child needs to learn that eating healthy and staying active is about more than how much they weigh. Other important health benefits include:

  • Building stronger bones
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Having less stress and anxiety‌
  • Improving self-esteem‌

Prioritizing sleep. Your child needs the right amount of sleep to be healthy. If your child isn’t well-rested, it’s more difficult for them to eat right and exercise. Sleep allows your child’s body to rest and reset each day.‌

Set an example. You can help your child by making healthy choices with them. You can start small and gradually introduce new healthy habits. Get everyone in your home on board, so your child who is overweight doesn’t feel singled out.‌

If you have concerns about a child’s weight, talk to their pediatrician. Ask how you can help encourage your child to make healthy choices. Your pediatrician may refer you to a dietician or other specialized medical professional for additional help.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Tips to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight.”

Eat Right: “How to Talk to Kids about Weight.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Helping Your Child Who is Overweight.”

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