The Overweight Child

If your child’s BMI (body mass index) is at or above the 85th percentile, s/he may be diagnosed as being overweight. If s/he is at or above the 95th percentile, s/he may be diagnosed as being obese. Don’t worry about such diagnoses. If you child’s weight follows along a particular percentile, even if it plots above the 95th percentile or even higher, it is normal growth. On the other hand, if your child's weight percentiles are going up, there could be a problem. Some children carry the genes for fatness, and those genes let them get too fat - they don't make them too fat. Errors in feeding can make vulnerable children too fat. What are those errors? 1) Too much interference 2) Too little structure, 3) Both together.

Instead of trying to get your child to eat less and slim him down, support his normal pattern of development. Do an excellent job of feeding, parent reliably and well, and let your child grow up to get the body that is right for him:

  • Get started with family meals, if you aren't having them already. Give sit-down snacks between times, but don't let him have free access to food or beverages, except for water.
  • To provide support without interfering with feeding, maintain a division of responsibility in feeding. You manage the what, when and where of feeding and trust your child to do the how much and whether of eating from what you put on the table.
  • Throughout your child’s growing-up years, feed in a developmentally appropriate fashion.
  • To provide structure without interfering with activity, maintain a division of responsibility in activity: You provide structure, safety and opportunities. Your child chooses how much and whether to move and the manner of moving.

For more about raising children who eat as much as they need and get bodies that are right for them (and for research backing up this advice), see Ellyn Satter's Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming, Kelcy Press, 2005. Also see www.EllynSatterInstitute.org/store to purchase books and to review comprehensive educational materials that teach stage-related feeding and solve feeding problems.

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