The concern about steadily rising rates of overweight children in the United States has grown considerably in recent years. Sometimes children gain weight more rapidly than expected and as a parent, it is understandable for you to become concerned. Unhealthy weight gain due to poor diet and lack of exercise is responsible for over 300,000 deaths in the United States each year. We want to help you understand the facts about unhealthy weight gain and how parents can help manage it.

A few extra pounds is not overweight. However, it may indicate a tendency to gain weight easily and a need for changes in diet and/or exercise. Generally, a child is not considered overweight until the weight is at least 10 percent higher than what is recommended for the height and body type. Weight gain most commonly begins in childhood between the ages of 5 and 6 and during adolescence. Studies have shown that a child who is overweight between the ages of 10 and 13 has an 80 percent chance of becoming an overweight adult.

The causes of weight gain are complex and include genetic, biological, behavioral and cultural factors. Basically, weight gain occurs when a person eats more calories than the body burns up. Weight gain in childhood and adolescence can be related to:

  • Poor eating habits
  • Lack of exercise
  • A family history of overweight
  • Medical illnesses
  • Medications
  • Stressful life events or changes
  • Family and peer problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression or other emotional problems

What parents can do to help:

  • Increase physical activity and have a more active lifestyle
  • Change the family’s eating habits
  • Plan meals and make better food selections
  • Limit “fast food” to once per week
  • Control portions and consume fewer calories
  • Monitor what children eat at school
  • Eat meals as a family around a table
  • Do not use food as a reward
  • Limit snacking
  • Insure adequate water intake
  • Attend a support group

Lasting weight loss can occur only when there is self-motivation. Since weight gain often affects more than one family member, making healthy eating and regular exercise a family activity can improve the chances of successful weight control for the child or adolescent.