Very overweight children tend to grow up to be very overweight adults, which can lead to health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.
Research shows children who achieve a healthy weight tend to be fitter, healthier, better able to learn, and are more self-confident. They're also less likely to have low self-esteem and be bullied.
As a parent, there's lots you can do to help your child become a healthier weight. Getting them to be more active and eat well is important. Here's practical advice to help you.
Listen to your child's concern about their weight. Overweight children often know they have a weight problem, and they need to feel supported and in control of their weight.
Let them know that you love them, whatever their weight, and that all you want is for them to be healthy and happy.
Steps for success
Here are five key ways to help your child achieve a healthy weight. You can read this whole page or click on the links below to go directly to the topic you want to know about:
If your child has a medical condition, the advice in this article may not be relevant. You should check with their GP or hospital doctor first.
Be a good role model
One of the best ways to instil good habits in your child is to be a good role model. Children learn by example. One of the most powerful ways to enourage your child to be active and eat well is to do so yourself.
Set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride instead of watching TV or surfing the internet. Playing in the park or swimming with your children shows them being active is fun.
- Any changes you make to your child's diet and lifestyle are much more likely to be accepted if the changes are small and involve the whole family. Here are 10 ways to get healthy as a family.
- If you're not sure what activities you'd like to try as a family, try this Which sport are you made for? tool to find out what you're best suited to.
Very overweight children don't need to do more exercise than slimmer children. Their extra body weight means they will naturally burn more calories for the same activity.
All children need about 60 minutes of physical activity a day for good health, but it doesn't need to be all at once. Several short 10-minute or even five-minute bursts of activity throughout the day can be just as good as an hour-long stretch.
For younger children it can take the form of active play, such as ball games, chasing games like "it" and "tag", riding a scooter, and using playground swings, climbing frames and see-saws.
For older children it could include riding a bike, skateboarding, walking to school, skipping, swimming, dancing and martial arts.
If your child isn't used to being active, encourage them to start with what they can do and build up to 60 minutes a day. They're more likely to stick to their new activity levels if you let them choose the type of activity they're comfortable with.
Walking or cycling short distances instead of using the car or bus is a great way to be active together as a family – and you'll save money, too.
Try to avoid feeding your child large portions. A good rule of thumb is to start meals with small servings and let your child ask for more if they're still hungry.
Try not to make your child finish everything on the plate or eat more than they want to. And avoid using adult-size plates for younger children as it encourages them to eat oversized portions.
Beware of high-calorie foods. Calories are a measure of the energy in food – knowing how many calories your child consumes each day, and balancing that with the amount of energy they use up in activity, will help them reach and stay at a healthy weight.
Eat healthy meals
Children, just like adults, should aim to eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables every day. They're a great source of fibre and vitamins and minerals.
Getting 5 A Day shouldn't be too difficult. Almost all fruit and vegetables count towards your child's 5 A Day, including fresh, tinned, frozen and dried.
Juices, smoothies, beans and pulses also count.
Be aware though that unsweetened 100% fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies can only ever count as a maximum of one portion of their 5 A Day.
For example, if they have two glasses of fruit juice and a smoothie in one day, that still only counts as one portion.
Their combined total of drinks from fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies should not be more than 150ml a day – which is a small glass.
For example, if they have 150ml of orange juice and 150ml smoothie in one day, they’ll have exceeded the recommendation by 150ml.
When fruit is blended or juiced, it releases the sugars which increases the risk of tooth decay so it’s best to drink fruit juice or smoothies at mealtimes.
Discourage your child from having sugary or high-fat foods like sweets, cakes, biscuits, some sugary cereals, and sugar-sweetened soft and fizzy drinks. These foods and drinks tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients.
Aim for your child to get most of their calories from healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables, and starchy foods like bread, potatoes, pasta and rice (preferably wholemeal). And switch sweetened drinks for water.
Less screen time and more sleep!
Help your children avoid sitting and lying around too much, as it makes it more likely for them to put on weight. Limit the amount of time your child spends on inactive pastimes such as watching television, playing video games and playing on electronic devices.
There's no hard and fast advice on how much is too much, but experts advise children should watch no more than two hours of television each day – and remove all screens (including mobile phones) from their bedroom at night.
It also helps children stay trim if they sleep well. It's been shown that children who don't have the recommended amount of sleep are more likely to be overweight. The less children sleep, the greater the risk of them becoming obese. Lack of sleep can also affect their mood and behaviour.
If you've received a letter about your child's weight after they were measured at school, you can use the contact number on the letter to speak to a health worker and get more information about what you can do and what support is available in your area.
Your GP or practice nurse can give you further advice. They also may be able to refer you to a local weight management programme for children, such as those run by MEND and More Life.
These programmes are often free to attend through your local health authority, and typically involve a series of weekly group workshop sessions with other parents and their children. You'll learn more about the diet and lifestyle changes that can help your child achieve a healthy weight.