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Childhood Weight Issues

Health InformationWeight issues are one of the last things you think about when you think about your child's health, but normal and not excessive weight gain is important for a child's development. (Read about "Child Development") It's also important for your child's health now and in the future. Childhood obesity has been attracting a lot of attention but it isn't the only weight issue that you as a parent should be aware of.

Childhood obesity

Childhood obesity has exploded over the last few decades. Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) say the rate is now double or triple what is was in the 1980's. Today the percentage of children who are overweight or obese is approaching 20 percent, according to government statistics.

That is, of course, just a small percentage compared to the 65 percent of adults that are considered either overweight or obese. (Read about "Obesity") Being overweight is linked to a multitude of health problems in adults, including a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers and other chronic conditions, such as osteoarthritis. (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease" "Diabetes" "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure" "Cancer: What It Is" "Osteoarthritis") For children, being overweight means greater health risks as well. NIH says that type 2 diabetes used to be rare in children, but up to 45 percent of new cases of diabetes in children are now type 2.

Being overweight also puts a child at greater risk of being overweight or obese when they get older. They also can have, even while they are still young, multiple risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. (Read about "Cholesterol") CDC says one study showed that up to 70 percent of obese children had at least one heart disease risk factor.

CDC says overweight young people also are at greater risk of muscular and skeletal (Read about "Skeletal System") problems and they are even more likely to have sleep apnea (Read about "Sleep") than their normal weight peers.


Being underweight can also be an issue. When very young, being underweight may indicate malnutrition. Some children and babies have conditions that make it hard for them to absorb nutrients. Conditions such as celiac disease fall into this category. (Read about "Celiac Disease") A child who is underweight should be checked for medical conditions that could be causing the lack of weight gain. The best way for a child to get a start on gaining the appropriate weight is to be breastfed for the first year. (Read about "Breastfeeding") When an older child is underweight, it may indicate they have other health problems such as an eating disorder. (Read about "Eating Disorders")

Body mass index

Calculate BMIBody mass index or BMI (Read about "BMI") is a calculation of the ratio of height and weight. You can use our calculator to determine your child's BMI. In adults a BMI between 18 and 24 is considered to be a healthy weight, a BMI of 25 to 29 is considered overweight and a BMI of 30 or above is considered obese.

But for children, over the age of two, sex and age is added into the calculations, and a child is then put into a percentile based on how they compare to other children. This is because, as children grow, their body fatness will change over the years. Additionally, girls and boys differ in their body fatness as they mature. Therefore, BMI-for-age is plotted on gender-specific growth charts. Each of the BMI-for-age gender specific charts contains a series of curved lines indicating specific percentiles. So after you calculate the BMI number, you need to open either the BMI chart for girls or the BMI chart for boys.

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Find your child's age on the horizontal border, and their BMI number (from the calculator) on the vertical borders. Then, plot where these lines intersect. This will show you what percentile they are in. Children over the age of two are considered:

You should talk to your child's doctor to find out your child's BMI and what it means.

Causes and treatment options

Excess weight is the result of an imbalance. More calories and nutrients are consumed than are used by the body. That can be the result of eating more food than needed. It can also be the result of much more complex genetic (Read about "Genetics"), behavioral and/or environmental issues.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) says there are many simple things you can do, that over a long period of time can help promote weight loss. Some of the things they suggest are drinking one less soda a day or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

For a very underweight child the first goal is to rule out medical conditions causing the issue. If none exists, it is important to add calories, not reduce the amount of activity the child is involved in. Exercise remains important to a child's health. Consider calorie-rich foods such as peanut butter and macaroni and cheese. You should also consider six smaller meals a day instead of three. Never force the child to eat more than they are comfortable consuming at any one time.

NICHD also says that weight control for children should involve the whole family in developing a healthy lifestyle. That should include things such as getting enough physical activity (Read about "Getting Started on Fitness") and reducing screen time in front of the TV or a computer. NIH recommends that children get at least one hour each day of vigorous physical activity. (Read about "Fitness for Kids") Adults should get at least a half hour each day.

Weight control also involves a healthy diet with a proper balance of nutrients. (Read about "Dietary Guidelines") A healthy diet according to NICHD:

Even if you are trying to help an underweight child gain weight, you should make sure they are not loading up on a lot of junk food.

No matter what, do not let food become a battleground. You do not want your children developing food obsessions. Changes in eating habits can take time. Be patient, offering positive feedback and support.

There are programs that can help you and your child develop proper eating and exercise habits. Contact your doctor or this hospital for more information. There are also other medical interventions that can be used to help a child lose weight (Read about "Losing Weight"), depending on the reasons for the problem. These interventions still depend on developing a healthy lifestyle for their success.

All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.

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