Are you worried about your child’s weight?
Perhaps you got a letter from the school letting you know that your child’s Body Mass Index (BMI) puts them in the category of “overweight.” Or maybe your pediatrician told you that she is concerned about your son’s weight on the growth chart. Or, perhaps you’ve recently noticed that your daughter seems to be gaining weight more quickly than the other girls in her class at school, and you’re wondering if there is reason for alarm.
Let me calm your nerves by telling you that you do not need to obsess over your child’s weight. I repeat: PLEASE DO NOT OBSESS OVER YOUR CHILD’S WEIGHT.
Despite what today’s culture seems to be telling us, children and teens (and adults) can be healthy at a variety of sizes, so it’s difficult and generally futile to focus exclusively on a number on the scale.
Now, does that mean we can just forget about health and wellness entirely? Of course not! What it means, however, is that you should focus on your child’s habits, rather than their weight, and here’s why.
- Nothing positive comes from a focus on weight. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parental weight talk (i.e. talking with your child about your own weight or your child’s weight) is linked to both obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.
- The number on the scale is just one small part of the picture and by itself means very little. You can be “overweight” and healthy, or thin and extremely unhealthy.
- Your child needs to grow! Focusing on weight leads to restriction, and that is never the goal for a growing child or teen. Rather, the focus should always be on providing healthy fuel to help their bodies grow and thrive.
- Despite popular belief, weight is not something you can actually control. It’s influenced by genetics, the environment, the bacteria in your gut, and more.
You can’t control your child’s weight. You can influence your child’s habits.
So what should you do if you’re concerned about your child’s weight?
First, consult with a Registered Dietitian. We are experts at interpreting confusing growth charts and BMI numbers as well as assessing the health of your family’s habits. A dietitian will be able to tell you if there is reason for alarm and refer you to appropriate specialists if need be. Plus, we can help you identify positive, healthy strategies to help improve your child’s nutrition that will actually work.
Second, drop the weight talk, and start focusing on your child’s habits. If we can just get real for a second, we all have habits that could use some improvement, regardless of our age, body shape or size. Reflect on your family’s current lifestyle, and brainstorm with your child 1 or 2 healthy habits you can start working on today. Make your goals specific and achievable.
- We will cook one healthy meal together at home each week.
- I will try a fruit or vegetable of my choice with my lunch each day.
- We will go for a 30-minute walk together after school each day.
- We will decrease TV time on the weekends to 2 hours per day.
This might feel overwhelming at first, but remember: you don’t have to change everything all at once. Start with the things that your child is most motivated to do, and do them as a family.
The key to your child’s well-being is not a number on the scale, but the health of their habits, so start focusing your energy where it counts!