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Christine McDermott, MS, RD, CDCES, BC-ADM, CDN, Diabetes Care and Education Specialist at St. Charles Hospital, shares tips for helping children form healthy eating habits.


How can I tell if my child is obese?

Roughly one in five American children are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that rates of childhood obesity are increasing. Excessive weight gain occurs in younger children and is more severe than before. The health consequences of this trend could be significant.

We use body mass index, or BMI, to determine a child’s physical growth in relation to other children the same age and sex. BMI is a calculation of height and weight that is used as a screening tool to assess a child’s weight status. In general, a child has more body fat with a higher BMI.

Doctors use four categories to describe children’s weight:

  • BMI below the 5th percentile is considered underweight.
  • BMI at the 5th and less than the 85th percentile is considered a healthy weight.
  • BMI at the 85th percentile and below the 95th percentile is considered overweight.
  • BMI at or above the 95th percentile is considered obese.

How does excess weight affect my child’s health?

Obesity affects a child’s physical and mental health. The younger a child becomes overweight, the longer they’ll have to deal with the health consequences of those extra pounds. 

Obese children have more health problems than children who maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight can increase the risk of developing health issues such as:

  • Asthma
  • Type 2 Diabetes  
  • Depression
  • Disordered eating
  • Early puberty and menstruation
  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • Fatty liver disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased anxiety
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stress 

When a child or adolescent is overweight, it can affect every area of their life. Helping your child build healthy habits like choosing a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep and lots of physical activity when they’re young will help to lay the foundation for a healthier future.

How can I help my child reach and maintain a healthy weight?

Good health begins in the home. As parents, we have a tremendous responsibility to act as role models for healthy eating and being active. And prevention is better than a cure.

Try these strategies to help your child build healthy habits that will last a lifetime:

  • Minimize sweetened beverages intake.
  • Increase access to fruits, vegetables and healthy snack choices.
  • Limit eating out, especially at fast food restaurants.
  • Eat together as a family.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices a habit. Go for a walk after dinner. Put down your phone and communicate. Experiment with nutritious recipes.
  • Partner with health care professionals such as your child’s physician or a registered dietitian to accurately assess your child’s weight and whether it’s affecting their health.
  • Talk to your child about making healthy decisions when choosing what and how much to eat. Avoid using words like “diet” or “fat” and emphasize lifestyle changes and balanced eating.

Keep your messages positive and focus on good health and good choices. We all have work to do. Take small steps each day for a healthier tomorrow.

Explore pediatric services at Catholic Health. Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.

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