If you’re concerned about your child’s health, then knowing if they’re at a healthy weight is important as excess weight really does pose health risks.
Weight is not all that matters when it comes to health
- Kids are always growing and changing, and sure, some do grow into their size. For example an overly slender child may fill out in his teen years or a kid with a chubby face may become taller and his features may become more slender.
- Healthy eating habits and physical activity matter for ALL kids. If your child eats healthy foods and exercises, but eats four servings of food vs. one serving, that’s an issue to address, because it can still result in excess weight. If your child is a seemingly perfect weight, but gets no exercise, that too is an issue.
- With kids, most experts agree that a healthy body is a combination of healthy foods, correct food portion sizes and physical activity. Weight matters, but it’s not all that matters.
Your first step
You should regularly speak with your child’s doctor or another health professional, such as a school nurse about your child’s health and weight. While pediatricians and other health professionals are trained to answer childhood weight concerns honestly and objectively, research shows that these professionals often won’t bring it up first. You should make the first move and be prepared for the answers you receive.
If you’re concerned and aren’t up to a doctor’s visit yet, there are some other ways to tell if your child is not at a healthy weight.
Know your child’s BMI
Visit the BMI Percentile Calculator for Children and Teens to find out if your child is at a healthy weight. It’s true that the BMI is not a totally accurate indicator of body fat, but it is a decent starting point and can give you a general idea about whether or not your child is at a healthy or an unhealthy weight. Also, if your child’s BMI is high, a doctor can perform further health tests, such as skinfold thickness measurements, diet evaluations, physical activity evaluations, family history and so on, so that you have better information.
Here’s another BMI chart that will give you an easy to read color chart.
Be VERY concerned about belly fat
Excess belly weight on kids and adolescents is far from a normal part of development and places kids at increased risk for some major health problems.
Still concerned? Below are some key habits and features that may lead to excess weight in kids and teens…
- Your child never or rarely exercises. Meaning, your child gets less than an hour of physical activity per day.
- Your child eats out more than 2 times per week or eats fast food (pdf) more than twice a week.
- Your child often or always asks for seconds at meals.
- Your child eats faster than the rest of the family.
- Your child eats often in front of the TV or alone at her desk instead of at the family dinner table.
- Your child avoids any light activity, for example she’d rather get a ride to school vs. walk, even if she lives close or takes the elevator vs. stairs.
- Your child is crazy for sweets and when asked, will most always choose sweets over other foods.
- Your child chooses unhealthy snacks, such as he heads straight for chips or junk, never for crackers or fruit or veggies.
- Your child eats when he’s not hungry.
- Your child skips meals regularly such as breakfast or lunch.
- Your child snores, which can be a sign of extra fat in the neck.
- Your child always stays up late. Night owl kids are heavier, in general, then their peers who get a good night’s sleep.
- Your child gets more than an hour a day of screen time including video games, watching TV and computer.
- Your child always asks for chips, cookies and other junk food at the store.
- Your child packs in too many carbs, like bread and cereal and not enough fruits and vegetables.
- Your child has trouble keeping up during sports or gets hurt frequently when playing actively.
- Your child is always tired, takes frequent naps or sleeps in very late.
- Your child only eats food with added sweeteners or fats, such as he’ll add sugar, sour cream, butter or dressing to all his food items.
- Your child has overweight parents or a parent – kids with one or more overweight parents are more likely to be overweight as well.
- Your child has an overweight sibling.
- Your child is stressed often – studies show that stressed kids tend to weigh more.
- Your child has expressed concern about his weight.
- Your child is sick more often than what you think is normal.
- Your child eats massive portions of food, such as 10 cookies at a time, a whole box of sweets such as doughnuts or Twinkies, a bowl with five heaping scoops of ice cream, three sandwiches, two bagels or half a box of mac and cheese. None of these are proper portion sizes for a child or teen. Remember, even healthy foods need to be eaten in correct portions.
- Your child drinks mostly soda, juice, sweetened teas, coffee drinks with milk, or other sweet beverages instead of water.
Just because your child has some of the habits above, doesn’t mean he is (or will end up) overweight or obese. If your child eats huge portions but exercises more than an hour a day, he may still be at a healthy weight. Also, some kids simply burn more calories than others.
However, the habits above are things to be aware of, especially if you want your child to develop healthy habits. Most of the habits above are not simply unhealthy because they may cause excess weight, but because they’re not healthy-for-life habits.
Even non-overweight kids shouldn’t have the above habits as they’re problematic for all kids. Aiming for healthy lifestyle choices should be a main goal for families.