As a parent, it can sometimes be difficult to tell that your child is overweight. A child may not look particularly heavy to be overweight. And because more children are becoming heavier at a younger age, we've become used to seeing bigger children.
Research shows children who achieve a healthy weight tend to be fitter, healthier, better able to learn, and more self-confident. They're also less likely to have low self-esteem or be bullied. And they're much less likely to have health problems in later life.
As a parent, there's lots you can do to help your child become a healthier weight. Getting them to be more active and eat well is important. Here's lots of practical advice to help you.
If your child has a medical condition, the advice in this article may not be relevant and you should check first with their GP or hospital doctor.
Steps for success
Here are five key ways you can help your child maintain a healthy weight. You can read this whole page or click on the links below to go directly to the topic you want to know about:
Be a good role model
One of the best ways to instil good habits in your child is for you to be a good role model. Children learn by example. One of the most powerful ways to encourage your child to be active and eat well is to do so yourself.
Set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride instead of watching TV or surfing the internet. Playing in the park or swimming with your children shows them being active is fun, and it's a great way for you all to spend time together.
Overweight children don't need to do more exercise than slimmer children. Their extra body weight means they will naturally burn more calories for the same activity.
All children need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day for good health, but it doesn't need to be all at once. Several short 10-minute or even five-minute bursts of activity throughout the day can be just as good as an hour-long stretch.
For younger children, it can take the form of active play, such as ball games, chasing games like "it" and "tag", riding a scooter, and using playground swings, climbing frames and see-saws.
For older children it could include riding a bike, skateboarding, walking to school, skipping, swimming, dancing and martial arts.
Walking or cycling short distances instead of using the car or bus is a great way to be active together as a family – and you'll save money, too.
Try to avoid feeding your child oversized portions. There's very little official guidance on precisely how much food children require, so you'll need to use your own judgement.
A good rule of thumb is to start meals with small servings and let your child ask for more if they're still hungry.
Try not to make your child finish everything on the plate or eat more than they want to. And avoid using adult-size plates for younger children as it encourages them to eat oversized portions.
It may also help if you encourage your child to eat slowly and have set mealtimes. You can use mealtimes as an opportunity to catch up on what's happened during the day.
- Explain to your child how to get the balance of their diet right using the eatwell guide – it shows how much they should eat from each food group.
- Read more about what counts as a balanced diet.
- Knowing the calorie content of foods can be useful – here's information to help you and your child understand calories.
- Get ideas for healthy packed lunches.
Eat healthy meals
Children, just like adults, should aim to eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables everyday. They're a great source of fibre and vitamins and minerals.
Getting 5 A DAY shouldn't be too difficult. Almost all fruit and vegetables count towards your child's 5 A DAY, including fresh, tinned, frozen and dried.
Juices, smoothies, beans and pulses also count.
Be aware that unsweetened 100% fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies can only ever count as a maximum of one portion of their 5 A DAY.
For example, if they have two glasses of fruit juice and a smoothie in one day, that still only counts as one portion.
Their combined total of drinks from fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies should not be more than 150ml a day – which is a small glass.
For example, if they have 150ml of orange juice and 150ml smoothie in one day, they’ll have exceeded the recommendation by 150ml.
When fruit is blended or juiced, it releases the sugars which increases the risk of tooth decay so it’s best to drink fruit juice or smoothies at mealtimes.
Discourage your child from having sugary or high-fat foods like sweets, cakes, biscuits, some sugary cereals, and sugar-sweetened soft and fizzy drinks. These foods and drinks tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients.
Aim for your child to get most of their calories from healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables, and starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta and rice (preferably wholemeal). And switch sweetened soft drinks for water.
Less screen time and more sleep!
Alongside the advice to get them moving more is the need to reduce the time they spend sitting or lying down in the day. Help your children avoid sitting and lying around too much as this makes them more likely to put on weight. Limit the time they spend on inactive pastimes like watching TV, playing video games and playing on electronic devices.
There's no hard and fast advice on how much is too much, but experts advise that children should watch no more than two hours of television each day. And remove all screens (including mobile phones) from their bedroom at night.
It also helps children stay trim if they sleep well. It's been shown that children who don't have the recommended amount of sleep are more likely to be overweight. The less children sleep, the greater the risk of them becoming obese. Lack of sleep can also affect their mood and behaviour.
If your child has a medical condition, the advice in this article may not be relevant and you should check with their GP or hospital doctor first.