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Children and healthy weight
Your child's weight matters, and there are things you can do if you are concerned about it. You can also calculate your child's height and weight to see if they are in a healthy range.
Why your child’s weight matters
Children are getting heavier these days and that is bad news for their health, especially as they get older.
Children who are overweight are more likely to develop diabetes or heart disease in later life and are more likely be obese as adults. But health is not the only issue. Overweight children could also be affected by:
- teasing or bullying
- low self-esteem
- embarrassment when playing games or sports
- difficulty in being active (for example, getting breathless quickly)
Even if your child is not overweight or obese, it is important that they eat healthily and are physically active. The tips outlined on this page are relevant to all children, no matter what their weight is.
Is your child at a healthy weight?
Because children and teenagers are still growing, and because boys and girls grow differently, a child's sex and age must be taken into account while working out if they are in a healthy weight range. For this reason, adult height and weight categories cannot be used for anyone under 18.
An online calculator has been developed to help you understand your child’s height and weight measurements and work out if your child is in a healthy weight range. The calculator is in the testing stage, and is available to preview. To go to the calculator click on the link below.
It is important to remember that results from the calculator will only provide an estimation of body fat. Other factors like how fit the person is or their ethnic origin, or even puberty, can affect results and should also be considered. Even if a child is within a healthy range, their health could still be at risk if they are very unfit or have an unhealthy diet. If your child is overweight, always talk to your doctor before putting them on a weight-loss diet.
What to do if you are concerned about your child’s weight
The best thing that you can do is to help your child develop healthy eating habits and be more physically active. Children who see their parents, grandparents and carers following a healthy lifestyle tend to learn by example and it will help them develop good habits. These habits become a normal part of everyday life.
Most overweight children do not need to diet. They may not even need to lose weight. As they grow taller, aim to keep their weight at about the same level. That means they grow into their ideal weight as they get taller.
Healthy eating for children
It is not a good idea to count calories or severely restrict food for children. Eating regular sit-down meals as a family, limiting high-calorie snacks and sugar-rich drinks, and trying to avoid ‘food on the run’ will help get your child into good eating habits for life. Resist the temptation to give your child sweets and chocolate for rewards or comfort.
Every day, all children should aim to eat:
- five or more servings of a variety of fruit and vegetables per day (for advice on how to achieve this, visit the link below)
- meals that are based on starchy foods, like potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, breakfast cereal or other cereals
- lower fat dairy products like milk, yoghurt, fromage frais or cheese (once children are over five)
A small amount of low-fat spread on bread or toast, and oil in cooking sauces or salad dressings, can help children enjoy healthy tasty meals. Savoury and sweet snacks (like crisps, biscuits and chocolate) and sugary drinks should be kept to a minimum. Try giving chopped up fruit as an alternative.
Healthy habits at home and school
To help your child adopt healthy eating habits start them at a young age.
Schools are now required to meet new nutritional standards for school food, so children will only be offered healthy food choices while they are at school. Getting them to eat healthier options at home will be consistent with what they get at school and help them towards healthier eating habits. Try to do as many of these as you can:
- sit together as a family to eat your meal if you can
- switch the television off when you are eating
- eat a balanced choice of healthy foods yourself and be positive about them
- try and encourage the family to try new foods
- encourage and praise ‘good eating’ instead of nagging
- involve the children in food preparation
For more information on how your child’s school is helping your child stay fit and healthy, click on the link below.
All children should aim to be active for at least one hour every day. Restrict screen time (computer and TV) to a maximum of two hours a day, and aim for less if possible, especially for young children.
Help your children find activities they enjoy. For most children, playing in the playground or park or running around outside is a real joy – whatever the weather. Try to incorporate physical activity into your everyday family life – walking, cycling and outdoor play should be part of this.
A variety of activity is important to help children develop strong bones, muscle strength and flexibility. Activity can be natural and spontaneous (in the playground, playing outside), planned (walking, cycling to school) or school sports.
Remember to praise your children when they take part or are active and do not criticise them if they are not as able as other children.
Over 90 per cent of children now participate in two hours of PE and sport in school each week. Through the PE and Sport Strategy for Young People, the aim is to offer young people five hours of sport and PE each week (both inside and outside of the school day).
To find out more about the PE and School Sports programme, click on the link below.