Childhood Obesity

Nutrition and Exercise Guidelines


If your child’s BMI (Body Mass Index) is at or above the 85th percentile they are at increased risk of having medical problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and sleep apnea. It is our desire to help you and your child become educated and motivated to bring their BMI down to a healthy level and establish habits that will help prevent obesity related diseases in adulthood.


It is much easier for your child to lose weight if they are motivated. Their motivation level can be dramatically influenced by your attitude toward the process of changing their diet and activity level. The more you partner with them in this process the easier it will be. However, even without motivation you can help your child lose weight if you are buying healthy foods to have at home and encouraging regular physical activity.


Goal #1Stop weight gain while maintaining normal growth in height. Their BMI will drop as they get taller if their weight is stable. Children who have reached puberty and their height has reached a plateau can aim for a 10% weight loss over the period of several months.


Weight maintenance or weight loss can be accomplished by decreasing calories in the diet or by increasing activity, therefore burning more calories on a daily basis. Children need a balance of calorie control in the diet and calorie burning activity every day.


Behavior modification


1.      Healthy eating habits: three well balanced meals should be eaten every day as well as 2 nutritious snacks. It is important that your child eat in regular intervals and not skip meals (especially breakfast).

2.      Get moving: encourage 60 minutes of physical activity a day

3.      Limit TV/computer/video game time – your child should not spend more than 1-2 hours a day in front of the TV, video games, or the computer. These activities are not only sedentary but also promote bad eating habits.

4.      Drinks – encourage your child to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day and avoid fruit juice and soft drinks which are very high in calories (150 – 180 calories per serving) and low in nutritional value.


Healthy Eating Habits


For most children, counting calories is not necessary. If your child has changed what they are eating to low fat, low calorie, nutrient dense foods, and they are only eating until they are full (not stuffed), a healthy BMI should be attainable. Learning to read the nutrition label on the foods you buy is very important. Your goal is to buy low calorie, low fat foods. Beware of diet foods since most of these products simply have replaced fat with sugar in order to call the product “low fat”. Pay careful attention to the serving size listed on the nutrition label, a serving is often smaller than you might think.


1.      Veggies – your child can eat as many vegetables as they desire as long as they are not saturated in butter, cheese, sauces, and dressings. Veggies are high in fiber, packed with vitamins and minerals, low in calories and are an essential part of your child’s diet. When it comes to green leafy veggies, the greener the better. For example, spinach and green leaf lettuce are considerably better for your child than iceberg lettuce. The darker it is, the more nutrients and fiber it contains.

2.      Fruits – should be limited to 2-3 servings a day due to the fact that they contain simple carbohydrates (sugars). Fruit can make a great snack alternative to chips, cookies, etc.

3.      Meats/Proteins – Skinless chicken breast and turkey breast, pork tenderloin, lean cuts of beef, low fat ground beef, and fish are excellent sources of protein and healthy fats. Avoid or limit fatty cuts of meat such as bacon, dark poultry meat, marbled beef, and ground hamburger meat. Nuts can be a healthy addition to your child’s diet, but should not be eaten in excess. Nuts contain a considerable amount of fat, but are much healthier fats than the kind found in animal fat.

4.      Dairy – your child should still be getting 2-3 servings of dairy a day in order to get an adequate amount of calcium in their diet. However, low fat and skim products should be use in place of whole milk and whole milk products. If your child will not eat “fat free” dairy, try going to “low fat” dairy products for a while before making the transition to “fat free”.

5.      Starches – breads, pasta, pastries, etc. should be limited to whole grain products. White bread does not contain the nutrients and fiber that whole grain bread does.

6.      Snacks – snack foods such as cookies, chips, ice cream, crackers, etc should be limited or eliminated altogether. Instead, offer your child lower fat, lower calorie options such as: low fat popcorn, fresh fruit, nuts, fresh veggies and low fat dip, etc


Exercise and an Active Lifestyle


The official recommendation for children is 60 minutes of physical activity a day. This can broken up during the day and can include things like walking the dog, jumping on the trampoline, riding a bike, playing a sport, working in the yard, etc. Getting your child involved in a sport can be a great way to get them moving. In addition, the family adopting an active lifestyle can make a huge difference. Parking toward the back of the parking lot when shopping, taking the stair instead of the elevator, taking a walk as a family or a bike ride in the evenings, taking kids outdoors or to the park on nice days instead of staying inside… these can all be effective ways to get your child moving! As your child begins to have more energy and gains motivation to get down to a healthy BMI, encourage them to get in 30-45 minutes of vigorous exercise 3-4 days a week. Jogging, biking, swimming, rollerblading, tennis, soccer, etc. can all be great ways to get cardiovascular exercise.




Don’t forget to encourage your child. Our goal is not a certain body type or image but a healthy weight that will reduce their risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and a host of other obesity related diseases.


Be patient. Getting down to a healthy BMI is not something that happens quickly. It can take months and sometimes years for children to reach their goal.


Avoid fad diets and stick to a well balanced diet. Call your pediatrician if you have questions about your child’s nutrition. Meeting with a Nutritionist/Dietician may be recommended to help you get off on the right foot.


Be involved. Your child will be much more successful if the entire family is making a lifestyle change with them. A healthy diet and regular exercise should be a part of everyone’s life.


Goal #2 – Continued weight loss. Not every child will need to lose weight. Some children will “grow into” their weight and then need to gain some weight as they continue to grow in height. Other children will reach their maximum height and still need to lose some weight to reach an optimal BMI. Please consult with your pediatrician in order to set healthy and realistic goals for weight loss.


Goal # 3 – Maintain. Once your child reaches a healthy BMI we want them to stay there. Remember this is a lifestyle change and not a “fad diet”. In order to keep a healthy weight, good nutrition and exercise will have to be habit your child develops and carries with them into adulthood and throughout their life.

Please visit these links for information on pediatric nutrition and exercise:

Kids Get

American Heart Association

Learn to be Healthy

Fitwize 4 Kids - A gym designed specifically for kids where they can get fit while having fun!

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