My Child is Overweight!

What’s a Parent to Do???

By Lori S. Brizee MS, RD, LD, CSP

Overweight in children is increasing rapidly in the USA and every other developed country in the world. Being overweight increases risks for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, joint problems, and so on.    What is the best way to deal with it?

The response of some communities is to weigh and measure children at school and send a note home in each child’s report card that tells her Body Mass Index and whether or not she is over weight.  Proponents of this practice believe that this is a practical way to raise parents’ awareness and encourage them to work toward resolving the problem in their own children.  In reality, these notes serve to make even slightly overweight children feel badly about themselves, and have driven some to full fledged eating disorders.

As  a pediatric nutritionist, I believe that it is important for all children to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise.  Singling out overweight children will not solve the issues of childhood overweight.  There are many good research studies that provide insights into the factors associated with childhood obesity; these help us to develop practical guidelines for reducing the problem.

A few factors associated with childhood overweight:

  • Skipping breakfast.
  • Television viewing and playing video games.
  • Decreased family meals.
  • Living in areas where outside play is viewed as unsafe.
  • High intake of sweetened beverages, especially between regular meals and snacks.  This includes soda pop, fruit drinks and 100% fruit juice.

There are lots of things we can do to help our children gain weight at a healthy rate, without ever calling attention to an individual child’s overweight status:

  • Eat at least one meal together as a family each day.
  • Turn the television off, put away the newspaper and enjoy your food together.
  • Sit down at a table to eat both meals and snacks, whether eating as a family or alone.
  • Eat breakfast every day. Try peanut butter on toast and a banana, or yogurt, fruit and a muffin for quick, nutritious breakfasts.
  • Cut down on or avoid sugared drinks and fruit juice. 100% fruit juice has as much or more sugar as soda pop and fruit drinks and juice contains fewer nutrients than do whole fruits.
  • Increase fruits and vegetables!!
  • Eat at least one fruit or vegetable at each meal and snack; your goal is 5 or more servings of vegetables and 2 or more servings of fruit every day.
  • Eat more soups for lunch and dinner.
    • Make soups from scratch or from a canned or packaged soup bases, and add fresh, frozen or canned vegetables. Due to their high liquid content, soups fill you up with fewer calories than do solid foods.
    • Soups are a great way to get a few more vegetables into your children, plus they taste great on a cold winter day.
  • Get active!!
  • Turn off the television!
  • Enroll your children in swimming lessons.
  • Try soccer or other team sports.
  • Go for family walks.
  • Go out and play in the snow when we have it!!
  • Create a family garden, or use a few flowerpots to plant cherry tomatoes, peppers or other vegetables and herbs.
  • Have family yard workdays.
  • Go biking, walking, swimming, roller-skating or ice skating, or play frisbee instead of renting a movie in the evening.
  • Clean the house together. Have a mini contest for making the bed the quickest (and best), hanging up clothes, dumping wastebaskets. Why not do things that help parents out??

There are many things that can be done to avoid excess eating and to increase physical activity; both key in stopping excess weight gain. Note that most of the things listed above involved the whole family; active parenting helps our children to be more physically healthy!!

What else??—DO NOT put your child on a “diet”...that is the surest way to make him want to overeat.  If your child is overweight and you would like help dealing with it, see a Registered Dietitian (RD) for advice, preferably one who is certified in pediatric and adolescent weight management.  An RD will evaluate your family and child’s lifestyle, eating, and physical activity habits and help you find ways to make positive, meaningful changes for your family.

Lori Brizee, Registered and Licensed Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition and owner of Central Oregon Nutrition Consultants, has extensive experience in working with children on weight issues.  See the website:, and e-mail or call to set up an in person or video chat consultation appointment (Lori Brizee: 541-388-0694).

Healthy Choices, Healthy Children, A guide to raising fit, happy kids by Lori S. Brizee with Sue Schumann Warner will be available in bookstores in October 2011; you can reserve a copy on now.