If your child is overweight, there's lots you can do to help them become a healthy weight as they grow.
As a parent, it can sometimes be difficult to tell that your child is overweight. A child may not look particularly heavy to be overweight. And, because more children are becoming heavier at a younger age, we've become used to seeing bigger children.
There's a lot you can now do to help your child reach a healthy weight.
Research shows that children who achieve a healthy weight tend to be fitter, healthier, better able to learn, and more self-confident. They’re also less likely to have low self esteem and be bullied. And they're much less likely to have health problems in later life.
As a parent, there's lots you can do to help your child become a healthier weight. Getting them to be more active and eat well is important. Here's lots of practical advice to help you.
Steps for success
Here are five key ways you can help your child maintain a healthy weight. You can read this whole page or click on the links below to go directly to the topic you want to know about:
- Be a good role model
- Encourage 60 minutes of physical activity a day
- Keep to child-size portions
- Eat healthy meals, drinks and snacks
- Less screen time and more sleep!
Be a good role model
One of the best ways to instil good habits in your child is for you to be a good role model. Children learn by example. One of the most powerful ways to encourage your child to be active and eat well is to do so yourself.
Set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride instead of watching TV, or surfing the internet. Playing in the park or swimming with your children shows them that being active is fun, and it's a great way for you all to spend time together.
- Any changes you make to your child’s diet and lifestyle are much more likely to be accepted if the changes are small and involve the whole family. Here are 10 ways to get healthy as a family.
- If you’re not sure what activities you’d like to try as a family, use this What's your sport? tool to find out what you're best suited to.
- Physical activity may be more appealing for your child if you do something as a family. Here are 10 ways to get active with your kids.
- Ideas for getting children involved in switching to a healthier lifestyle.
Overweight children don’t need to do more exercise than slimmer children. Their extra body weight means they will naturally burn more calories for the same activity.
All children need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day for good health, but it doesn’t need to be all at once. Several short 10-minute or even 5-minute bursts of activity throughout the day can be just as good as an hour-long stretch.
For younger children, it can take the form of active play, such as ball games, chasing games like "it" and "tag", riding a scooter, and using playground swings, climbing frames and see-saws.
For older children it could include riding a bike, skateboarding, walking to school, skipping, swimming, dancing and martial arts.
Walking or cycling short distances instead of using the car or bus is a great way to be active together as a family – and you'll save money too.
- Find out the amount and type of physical activity recommended for under-5s.
- Find out the amount and type of physical activity recommended for children and young people aged 5-18.
- Join Change4Life for free and your child will get their own personalised activity plan full of good ideas for getting moving. Watch this short video to see how playing can be a fun form of physical activity for a younger child.
Try to avoid feeding your child over-sized portions.
There’s very little official guidance on precisely how much food children require so you’ll need to use your own judgement.
A good rule of thumb is to start meals with small servings and let your child ask for more if they are still hungry.
Try not to make your child finish everything on the plate or eat more than they want to. And avoid using adult-size plates for younger children as it encourages them to eat oversized portions.
It may also help if you encourage your child to eat slowly and have set mealtimes. You can use mealtimes as an opportunity to catch up on what's happened during the day.
- Explain to your child how to get the balance of their diet right using the eatwell plate. It shows how much they should eat from each food group.
- Read more about what counts as a balanced diet.
- Knowing the calorie content of foods can be useful. Here's information to help you and your child understand calories
- Get ideas for healthy packed lunches
Eat healthy meals
Getting 5 A DAY shouldn't be too difficult. Almost all fruit and vegetables count towards your child’s 5 A DAY including fresh, tinned, frozen and dried. Juices, smoothies, beans and pulses also count.
Discourage your child from having too many sugary or high-fat foods like sweets, cakes, biscuits, some sugary cereals and soft drinks. These foods and drinks tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients.
Aim for your child to get most of their calories from healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables, and starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta and rice (preferably wholemeal). And switch sweet drinks for water.
- Fussy eater? Not a problem with these tips to help your kids enjoy their 5 A DAY.
- Tasty 5 A DAY family-friendly recipes.
- Find out how many soft or fizzy drinks children can have a day.
- Find out more about healthy drinks for children.
- Swap high-fat foods for these healthier alternatives.
- Try these sugar swaps – healthier swaps for breakfast, snacks and puddings.
- Ideas for sugar swaps when you shop.
Less screen time and more sleep!
Alongside the advice to get them moving more is the need to reduce the time they spend sitting or lying down in the day.
Help your children avoid sitting and lying around too much as this makes them more likely to put on weight.
Limit the time your child spends on inactive pastimes like watching TV, playing video games and playing on electronic devices.
There's no hard and fast advice on how much is too much, but experts advise that children should watch no more than two hours of television each day. And remove all screens (including mobile phones) from their bedroom at night.
It also helps children stay trim if they sleep well. It's been shown that children who don't have the recommended amount of sleep are more likely to be overweight. The less children sleep, the greater the risk of them becoming obese. Lack of sleep can also affect their mood and behaviour.
- Find out how much sleep children need according to their age.
- How screens impair children's sleep.
- Sleep tips for children.
- Hidden causes of weight gain.
If your child has a medical condition then the advice in this article may not be relevant and you should check first with their GP or hospital doctor.