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Tips for Parents – Ideas to Help Children and Maintain a Healthy Weight

You’ve probably read about it in newspapers and seen it on the news: in the United States, the number of children with obesity has continued to rise over the past two decades. You may wonder: Why are doctors and scientists troubled by this trend? And as parents or other concerned adults, you may ask: What steps can we take to prevent obesity in our children? This page provides answers to some of the questions you may have, as well as resources to help you keep your family healthy.

Why is Childhood Obesity Considered a Health Problem?

Photo: Children eating lunch in a cafeteria
  • Children with obesity can be bullied and teased more than their normal weight peers. They are also more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem. The effects of this can last into adulthood.
  • Children with obesity are at higher risk for having other chronic health conditions and diseases, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Type 2 diabetes is increasingly being reported among children who are overweight. Onset of diabetes in children can lead to heart disease and kidney failure.
  • Children with obesity also have more risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure and high cholesterol than their normal weight peers. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, almost 60% of children who were overweight had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), and 25% had two or more CVD risk factors.
  • Children with obesity are more likely to have obesity as adults. This can lead to lifelong physical and mental health problems. Adult obesity is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancers.

What Can I Do As a Parent or Guardian to Help Prevent Childhood Overweight and Obesity?

To help your child maintain a healthy weight, balance the calories your child consumes from foods and beverages with the calories your child uses through physical activity and normal growth.

Remember that the goal for children who are overweight is to reduce the rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Children should NOT be placed on a weight reduction diet without the consultation of a health care provider.

Balancing Calories: Help Kids Develop Healthy Eating Habits

One part of balancing calories is to eat foods that provide adequate nutrition and an appropriate number of calories. You can help children learn to be aware of what they eat by developing healthy eating habits, looking for ways to make favorite dishes healthier, and reducing calorie-rich temptations.

Encourage healthy eating habits.
photo of a man and two children eating

There’s no great secret to healthy eating. To help your children and family develop healthy eating habits:

  • Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products.
  • Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products.
  • Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein.
  • Serve reasonably-sized portions.
  • Encourage your family to drink lots of water.
  • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Limit consumption of sugar and saturated fat.

Remember that small changes every day can lead to a recipe for success!

For more information about nutrition, visit and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015.

Look for ways to make favorite dishes healthier.
Photo: A group of children

The recipes that you may prepare regularly, and that your family enjoys, with just a few changes can be healthier and just as satisfying.

Remove calorie-rich temptations!

Although everything can be enjoyed in moderation, reducing the calorie-rich temptations of high-fat and high-sugar, or salty snacks can also help your children develop healthy eating habits. Instead only allow your children to eat them sometimes, so that they truly will be treats! Here are examples of easy-to-prepare, low-fat and low-sugar treats that are 100 calories or less:

  • A medium-size apple
  • A medium-size banana
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup grapes
  • 1 cup carrots, broccoli, or bell peppers with 2 tbsp. hummus

Balancing Calories: Help Kids Stay Active

Another part of balancing calories is to engage in an appropriate amount of physical activity and avoid too much sedentary time. In addition to being fun for children, regular physical activity has many health benefits, including:

  • Strengthening bones
  • Decreasing blood pressure
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Helping with weight management
Help kids stay active.

Children should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week, preferably daily. Remember that children imitate adults. Start adding physical activity to your own daily routine and encourage your child to join you.

Some examples of moderate intensity physical activity include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Playing tag
  • Jumping rope
  • Playing soccer
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
Reduce sedentary time.

In addition to encouraging physical activity, help children avoid too much sedentary time. Although quiet time for reading and homework is fine, limit the time your children watch television, play video games, or surf the web to no more than 2 hours per day. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television viewing for children age 2 or younger. Instead, encourage your children to find fun activities to do with family members or on their own that simply involve more activity. See the Screen Time Vs Lean Time – info graphic

Want to Learn More?

Here are some additional resources that you (and your child) can use to help reach or keep a healthy weight through physical activity and healthy food choices!

Child and Teen BMI (Body Mass Index) Calculator

Worried about your child’s weight? For children, BMI is used to screen for obesity, but is not a diagnostic tool. For more, see About BMI for Children and Teens.

Childhood Overweight and Obesity 

This web site provides information about childhood obesity, including how obesity is defined for children, the prevalence of obesity, the factors associated with obesity, and the related health consequences.

Physical Activity for Everyone

Provides information about physical activity for you and your children.

How to Avoid Portion Size Pitfalls

Confused about portion sizes? Play the CDC’s portion control game!

Provides a tailored explanation of how to balance your meals and includes an interactive game for kids.

We Can!

This national education program is designed for parents and caregivers to help children 8-13 years old stay at a healthy weight.

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BAM! Body and Mind
Have fun, stay active and healthy.

Blast Off Game
Learn what it takes to blast off in the food pyramid space shuttle!

Best Bones Forever!
A bone health campaign for girls and their BFFs to “grow strong together and stay strong forever!”

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