My Child is Overweight: What Should I Do?

A chubby and plump child may look adorable and cute, and some say ‘auspicious’ or ‘wellfed’ in our Asian society. However, roundsized kids should not be regarded as normal for his health’s sake. It can be hard to tell if a child is overweight as they grow at different rates. One’s body mass index (BMI) can be calculated by measuring our weight relative to height to indicate if we are underweight, normal, overweight, or obese.

For children, BMI-for-age is determined by using BMI charts that are age- and gender-specific to get a more accurate evaluation, by comparing their BMI with the general child population. If your child is overweight, take the necessary steps to deal with the problem.

Overweight and obesity are reversible so take action now!

What Should I Do?

Cultivate a healthy lifestyle in your child and improve eating habits together as a family!

Be a good role model. It starts with you, the parents! Children learn from observing people around them. Be more conscious about what you eat and do, and how it can influence your child. You are the one who decides what to buy and eat in your household, and your child can be affected by this.

Get the whole family involved. Have healthy meals and eat together instead of preparing a special dish only for your overweight child. He is more likely to accept changes that are gradual and involve the whole family as his support. Everyone will benefit and your child won’t feel singled out. Also, no TV and gadgets distractions to allow everyone to eat slowly, mindfully and at regular hours.

Have a Balanced, Moderate, and Varied diet based on the Malaysian Food Pyramid. A healthy diet has a good balance of each food group, served in moderate quantities and with a different variety of food, to supply him with all the nutrients he needs.

Use the Malaysian Healthy Plate concept with ½ plate of fruits and veggies, a ¼ plate of grain products, preferably whole grains, and a ¼ plate of fish, meat or poultry. Give him suitable portions by using a smaller plate. Also include two glasses of milk daily. Still hungry? Let him drink more plain water (for good hydration) and finish his vegetables and fruits (to meet 5 servings a day), instead of rice/noodles to prevent overeating. Also, avoid buying and giving him sweetened beverages.

Discuss healthy eating habits. Tell your child about the importance of his health, and how healthy habits like eating vegetables, exercising, and sleeping early can make him strong and prevent illness. Use simple terms that he can understand.

Have home-cooked meals more frequently. This way, your child’s meals will only contain fresh and healthy ingredients cooked with healthier methods like steaming. Thus, you can reduce consuming fast food and unhealthy snacks like chips or deep-fried food.

Healthy eating out. When going out, pack some healthy snacks like fresh fruits to nibble on. Choose to dine at a healthier restaurant instead of a fast food joint. Your child will learn that eating out should also be as healthy as eating at home.

Healthy snacks everywhere. Have bitesized fruits and veggies like apples, bananas, cherry tomatoes or baby carrots where it is easy to see and reach. Keep high-calorie food and drinks out of sight!

No food bribe/punishment. Don’t offer him dessert for cleaning up his room or deny him dinner for misbehaving. This can create an unhealthy relationship with food.

Never skip breakfast. A healthy breakfast provides sufficient energy to kick-start the day after 9-11 hours of ‘fasting’ (sleeping time) since your dinner, hence why it is called ‘break-fast’. Skipping breakfast can also lead to overeating later in the day.

Ensure good sleeping habits. Studies show a link between lack of sleep and excess weight. Insufficient sleep also affects his mood and behaviour, but excessive sleep is also bad. Know the proper hours of sleep for your child’s age. Read more about ‘Sleep Hygiene’ on page 18.

Get moving!

Your child needs at least a total of 40-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily by doing several short sessions that add up to one hour. Younger children can play ball games or chasing games, while older children can take up activities like cycling or badminton. Outdoor activity is also a good time for family bonding. Our article ‘Every Movement Counts’ on page 43 has more information on active lifestyle tips. Also, limit your child’s screen time and sedentary activity. Do not let them spend more than two hours on TV, video games, computer, or smartphones, making them sit and lay around too much.

If your efforts to follow all these tips are not showing results, consult your child’s paediatrician for other options. He may recommend a diet and exercise plan, or refer you to a dietician or weight management programme suitable for your child.

An educational contribution by Malaysian Paediatric Association.

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