Promoting Healthful Weight

Promoting Healthful Weight for Children and Teens

From childhood through adulthood, a healthy weight promotes a healthy life. The wise approach to achieving healthy weights: smart eating and active living!

Weight Whys

Why focus attention on healthy weights for kids? In the growing years, a healthy weight is a psychological plus– helping to build a positive self-image. Normal weight children and teens also have a better chance of becoming normal weight adults and, thus, have a lower lifetime risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers. That’s a physical plus!

In the past decade, however, the number of overweight children in the United States has more than doubled. Some contributing factors: overeating, physical inactivity and a family history of weight problems.

A “Kid Healthy” Weight

A healthy weight differs from child to child, and teen to teen. What’s right for your child depends on his or her body size, growth stage and gender. Consider these facts:

  • Kids’ bodies differ from yours. Be aware that a little extra fat, perhaps before puberty, may be the body’s way to prepare for a growth spurt.
  • Children and teens develop at different rates. Avoid comparing them to their peers. Instead, see how your child’s growth pattern and body type compare to yours at the same age.
  • Overweight kids won’t necessarily become overweight adults. Children often shed “kid fat” during growth spurts.

Growth charts– used in regular check ups– help track your child’s weight in relation to height. Generally, after age two, healthy children tend to stay within the same percentiles for height and weight on growth charts. A significant change in percentile may signal a weight prohlem. If you’re concerned about your child’s body size, talk to a dietitian or health-care provider.

Weighty Problems

What if your child or teen is overweight? Forget adult notions of dieting. Use a “kid healthy” approach instead:

  • Remember– kids need food energy and nutrients to grow, play and learn. Unless guided by a dietitian or health care provider, children and teens should not be put on a restrictive eating regime.
  • Slow down weight gain– to allow your child’s height to catch up with his or her weight. Weight loss is not a goal for most growing kids.
  • Encourage active play and an active lifestyle– and join in when you can. Moving more uses extra food energy.
  • Take care of the whole child. The root of weight problems often goes beyond food. Stress, boredom, school problems, peer or family conflict and lifestyle can all play a role, too. Get professional help if you need it.
  • Help kids take charge. Pressuring overweight kids to eat smarter and move more usually won’t work!

“The percentage of children and adolescents who are overweight has more than doubled since the early 1970’s, constituting a public health epidemic. Nationwide, almost 1 in 7 kids is overweight.”
-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Daily Pyramid Servings for Children and Teens
FOOD GROUP Children, Ages 2 to 6 years
(Up to 1,600 calories)
Older Children, Teen Girls
(Up to 2,200 calories)
Teen Boys
(Up to 2,800 calories)
Milk/Milk Products
Meat/Meat Alternatives
2, for a total of 5 oz.
2, for a total of 6 oz.
3, for a total of 7 oz.
Adapted from The Food Guide Pyramid, Home and Garden Bulletin Number 252, 1996.
*OIder children and teenagers (ages 9 to l8 years) need 3 servings daily.

Healthful Eating, Healthy Kids

What kids do makes a difference! Help your child or teen prevent a weight problem … or reach the weight that’s right for him or her … by following this advice.

What’s a Pyramid Serving?

(Young children might eat smaller servings.)
Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta
1 slice bread, 5-6 crackers
1 oz. ready-to-eat cereal flakes
1/2 cup cooked hot cereal, rice or pasta
1 medium apple, banana, orange
1/2 cup chopped, cooked or canned fruit
3/4 cup fruit juice
1 cup raw leafy vegetables
1/2 cup other vegetables– cooked or raw
3/4 cup vegetable juice
Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese
1 cup milk* or yogurt*
1-1/2 oz. natural cheese*
2 oz. process cheese*
1 cup soy beverage with calcium
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs and Nuts
2-3 oz. cooked lean meat, poultry, fish
1/2 cup cooked dry beans or 1/2 cup tofu counts as 1 oz. lean meat
2 tablespoons peanut butter or 1/3 cup nuts counts as 1 oz. meat
* Choose fat-free or reduced-fat dairy products most often.
  • Let the Pyramid guide your child’s food choices.
    That way, he or she can get enough food to grow, play and learn– without getting too many calories.
    Offer grain products, vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy foods and beans, lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs or nuts. Let your child decide how much of these foods to eat. (See charts for serving specifics.)
    To encourage healthful eating, go one step at a time. Perhaps switch to low fat milk, or offer a single-serve snack instead of the whole package.
  • Count on meals to provide most of the nutrients kids need. Family meal times promote healthful eating.
  • Help kids fit snacks in– so they count toward Pyramid servings. Stock snacks from different food groups: fruits, vegetables, crackers, nuts and cheese.
  • Together, be “portion smart.” Be sensible about portions you serve to avoid overfeeding. The chart, What’s a Pyramid Serving? can help you.

Tips: Learning to Eat Smart

Help your child develop healthful eating habits with this approach to eating:

  • Keep mealtime positive– and relaxed.
  • Help kids learn self-regulation– so they know how much food is right for them. You decide what foods and when; kids pick from those foods and decide how much.
  • Stick with regular meal and snack times. The chance of overeating goes down when kids know when to expect the next snack or meal.
  • Limit chances for emotional overeating. Using food to comfort, reward or discipline kids sets up a lifetime habit of emotion-driven eating.

Help children be healthy by setting a good example. Follow habits of healthful eating and active living together.

©2002 International Food Information Council Foundation