Children who are a healthy weight are more likely to maintain a healthy weight as adults. Here’s how to help your child build healthy habits without hurting their self-esteem.
Weight can be a tricky subject for parents to discuss with their children. This is largely because weight, though a physical issue, often has a significant impact on mental health, as well. Accordingly, many parents have a difficult time striking the right balance between instilling healthy habits and protecting their child’s self-esteem. What’s more, it can be difficult to pinpoint a “healthy weight” when a child is young, which only adds to parents’ confusion. As a rule of thumb, parents who are concerned about their child’s weight should speak to their child’s pediatrician before taking any drastic action. That said, there are several straightforward steps parents can take to ensure their child has the best chance of maintaining a healthy weight without significant intervention.
1. Make decisions based on a growth chart, not just BMI.
A person’s body mass index (BMI) is calculated by dividing their weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared. BMI is the most common way to screen for healthy weight in children over the age of two, but it’s also somewhat controversial — especially for children under the age of six. A 2017 study even found that BMI was a poor predictor of body fat percentage and total fat in children under nine. As such, it’s wise to look at both your child’s BMI and their growth chart. At your child’s checkups, their doctor will plot their height and weight against the average growth of children their age, but rather than drawing definitive conclusions based on the percentile your child falls in, be sure to focus on any changes on their growth chart. If your child has been at the 75th percentile for years but suddenly shoots to the 95th or the 25th percentile, that should raise some red flags. If they keep growing around the 75th percentile, there’s usually no reason to worry.
2. Divide food and nutrition responsibilities strategically.
Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding, a mealtime framework developed by registered dietician Ellyn Satter, is a great way to understand parents’ roles in helping their child develop healthy, positive eating behaviors. The framework is based on the idea that children will naturally obey their body’s hunger and fullness cues as long as they’re set up to do so. According to this framework, a parent is responsible for determining what, when, and where their child eats, whereas their child is responsible for deciding how much and whether to eat. Trying to control the amount your child eats can lead to increased pickiness, overeating, refusal to eat, or the desire for what is perceived to be “forbidden food.”
3. Encourage active play.
One of the best ways to help your child maintain a healthy weight is to encourage them to get outside and engage in active play. Physical activity is a vital component of healthy development, providing benefits for the body and mind alike. Start by creating plenty of opportunities for your child to play, with the end goal of finding a handful of activities that they’ll want to return to again and again. Whether it’s jogging, playing on a sports team, or taking a dance class, the best activity for your child is one they enjoy doing.
Finding a Partner in Your Child’s Health
The premier independently-owned pediatric office in Beverly, Massachusetts, Kids’ Health is dedicated to helping your child reach their best physically, emotionally, and academically. Issues as sensitive as your child’s weight and eating habits are complex, and require a truly holistic approach — the approach that we take at our practice. To make an appointment, contact us today.
Originally published by Kids' Health on March 10, 2020