Weight concerns in children and youth
Focus on being healthy and having fun, not your child’s weight.
Elevated rates of overweight and obesity in Ontario children are a growing concern. While it is necessary to protect the health of our children, it is important to remember that our weight is the result of a complicated set of factors, including:
- our genes
- our environment
- our economy
- our society
- our personal behaviours
Are you concerned about your child’s weight?
Children grow at different rates and times. A healthy weight is different for every child. A healthy weight for your child is the weight their body is naturally when they regularly enjoy a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating well, moving well, sleeping well and feeling well. If you are concerned about your child’s development, talk to your health care provider. He or she can assess your child to see if they are growing according to their own unique pattern.
Puberty brings about changes to the bodies of boys and girls. Growth and development are often not proportionate; some parts grow faster or slower. For a while, bodies may look and feel awkward because of this. It is also normal, and part of healthy development, to gain weight and body fat during puberty.
If children and parents don’t know that this is typical, they may worry or engage in unhealthy habits to try to limit weight gain. Research shows that when we don’t understand the normal changes that come with puberty, it can have a negative effect on body image, which often leads to poor or disordered eating patterns. This can also have a negative effect on mental and emotional well-being and, in more extreme cases, can lead to nutritional deficiencies or harm physical development.
Take the focus off weight
Children see and hear a lot of different messages. Being aware of weight is a modern day issue that has become part of growing up. The messages children hear about weight are often mixed so it’s normal if they have questions or concerns about it. Remember that when talking to children about weight, it’s important to keep the focus on health, fun, and healthy behaviours and not on thinness or weight. Help your kids learn that healthy bodies come in many different shapes and sizes!
Make it a family affair
Regardless of your child’s weight, the goal should be to improve the health of the entire family. Everyone benefits from eating well, getting active, sleeping well, and feeling good about themselves! Here are some suggestions to involve the whole family in building healthy habits that will last a lifetime:
- Eat healthy meals together as a family. Start with a healthy breakfast.
- Eat fast foods and highly processed convenience foods less often.
- Plan active outings and games that you can do as a family.
- Set limits on the amount of time your family spends watching TV or playing video games. Put on music and dance instead, or just go outside and have fun!
- Encourage positive self-esteem by celebrating successes that have nothing to do with appearances, such as working hard to achieve a goal, doing well on an assignment, being a good friend, etc.
- Make sleep (National Sleep Foundation) a priority. Consistent bed times and wake-up times are important.
Learn some more practical tips to help kids reach for their best!
Be a positive role model
Starting from a young age, children learn healthy habits from their parents and important adults in their lives. Remember, kids are listening, watching and learning from you, so follow these tips in order to be a positive role model:
- Enjoy a variety of foods and children will too, without feeling guilty.
- Instead of saying, “I never seem to find the time to exercise,” say, “Let’s turn off the TV and go for a walk together.”
- A child’s confidence is affected by the way you feel and talk about yourself. Be careful about the way you talk about yourself and your body.
- Talk openly about the things you do well and feel good about.
- Be critical of the media (MediaSmarts). Teach children that pictures and images used by the media are often not realistic. Healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes.
Think of changes you can make to behaviours and environments that will help you (or those around you) to eat well, get moving, get enough sleep, and feel good about yourself. This will help foster a healthy self-esteem and body image. Caring adults also play an important role in helping children grow up happy and healthy.
Everybody has a role to play in addressing obesity rates in children
We know that health, including weight, is affected by much more than personal behaviours and choices. If we hope to improve the health of our children and decrease obesity rates, we must take into account the social and economic influences of where children live, learn and play. In March 2013, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s Healthy Kids Panel released No Time to Wait: The Healthy Kids Strategy, which outlines 23 recommendations for promoting the health and well-being of children and youth in Ontario.
In response to the Strategy, the Sudbury & District Health Unit (SDHU) underwent a process of self-reflection and evaluated its healthy weights program and services against the 23 recommendations. Overall, the SDHU achieved a B and also identified next steps in order to improve its grade.
The report (No Time to Wait: Healthy Kids in the Sudbury and Manitoulin Districts) also calls on all other individuals, organizations and community partners to evaluate their programs and services against the 23 recommendations, and work together to achieve healthy kids in the SDHU service area.
Kater, K. (2012). Healthy bodies: Teaching kids what they need to know. North St. Paul, MN: Body Image Health.
Sudbury & District Health Unit (2009). Your Kids Are Listening [brochure].
Rudd Center (n.d.). Preventing Weight Bias: Helping Without Harming in Clinical Practice. Retrieved from http://yaleruddcenter.org/resources/bias_toolkit/index.html on August 13, 2014.
Health Kids Panel (HKP) (2013). No Time to Wait: The Healthy Kids Strategy.
This item was last modified on April 12, 2017