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How to Help Your Child Maintain a Healthy Weight

Child and Family

There’s a lot of talk about kids being overweight these days. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one in five school age children is overweight or obese, a number that’s more than tripled since the ‘70s.

So, what can parents do to help ensure their kids maintain a healthy weight? 

BMI charts for children

We hear a lot about BMI (body mass index) when talking about weight for adults. It’s a measure of body fat based on weight in relation to height. However, when it comes to kids, BMI tells only part of the story. 

BMI is used as an indicator only for children over the age of 2. The scale used for children looks a lot different than that used for adults. On a child’s BMI scale, the percentiles have to take into account the facts that young people are still growing, and they grow at different rates depending on age and sex. That’s why we also use growth charts to determine whether a child’s weight falls into a healthy range.

According to the CDC, a child is considered overweight if he or she has a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and less than the 95th percentile. Those above the 95th percentile are considered obese. Those who have normal or healthy weights fall between the fifth and 85th percentile.

Numbers aren’t everything

But seriously, what you see on a BMI scale doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to weight. 

If kids are above the 85th percentile, we do see it as a warning sign, but other factors must be considered. You need to look at things such as the height of the parents and whether the child might be really athletic and have a lot of muscle mass. Every child is different. 

When I see kids in the clinic, the most important thing I focus on is building healthy lifestyles. That includes eating a good mix of fruits and vegetables, and getting in a good amount of exercise.

Healthy lifestyle = healthy weight

Exercise: I cannot say this enough – put down the electronics and play. Kids need at least 30 minutes to an hour of exercise each day. That means running, skipping, jumping and getting outside! The more we get kids active and engaged, the better. Limit screen time to less than two hours a day. Instead, encourage your kids to spend that time being creative and finding other ways to exercise their bodies and minds.

Nutrition: Look, all kids like sweets. But limiting the amount of added sugars in your child’s diet is key. It’s so much more important that your kids get the vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats they need. You can visualize healthy eating using the government’s MyPlate guidelines. If you have picky eaters, encourage them to help out in the kitchen. Research shows that kids are more likely to try healthy recipes if they pick them out or help prepare them. 

If you need ideas to encourage and educate your young kids about healthy eating, visit MyPlate Kids’ Place online.

When in doubt, ask

If you have questions about your child’s weight or whether he or she is falling in a healthy range, start the conversation with your Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician. We can help encourage good habits and get your creative juices flowing with fresh ideas on staying healthy.

Hayley Timm

About the Author:

Dr. Hayley Timm has always enjoyed working with children. She says becoming a pediatric physician is meaningful, and she knows that every day she helps to make kids better. 

Dr. Timm sees patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic Council Bluffs. She completed her medical degree at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and her pediatric residency at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital/Michigan State University.

See More Articles by Hayley Timm