Managing your child's weight

Children jogging with their mum.

At a glance

  • The family is the best influence for showing a child how to manage their weight.
  • One in four school-aged children is classed as mildly overweight to obese.
  • Healthy food and regular activity are the basis of keeping children's weight down.
  • Habits that are good for children are often good for the whole family.
  • Avoid foods high in fat, sugar and salt, such as chips and sweets, and make water the day's main drink.

Your family is the best influence for showing your child how to manage their weight.

It's all about family when it comes to influencing children's waistlines and no number of wonder diets can beat some simple changes at home. That's the advice of the childhood obesity experts for keeping a child's weight down.

Dr Shirley Alexander, specialist in child obesity at The Children's Hospital Westmead, says: "Try and get the whole family to develop healthier lifestyle habits and through that, hopefully get some weight-loss in the children."

The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures suggest as many as one in four school-aged children fits into the category of being mildly overweight to obese today.

But after rocketing upwards for a long time there are early indications the number of overweight to obese children may be levelling off, Shirley says.

Try and get the whole family to develop healthier lifestyle habits. Dr Shirley Alexander The Children's Hopsital Westmead

A growing problem

Paying attention to what and how children eat is the first step towards parents and carers being able manage their children's weight.

Changes in our eating habits over many years have dramatically affected our calorie intake. Up to one-third of children's intake today can be what Shirley calls wasted calories.

These tend to be calories in high-energy foods like chips, sweets and sweet drinks, and should only be eaten as treats.

"They're empty calories. They don't provide anything else. They don't provide any vitamins or minerals or any other useful nutrition," says Shirley.

Nutritionist Matt O'Neill says parents are by far the best role models when it comes to food and activity.

He has recently been working with parent volunteers in NSW school canteens to help improve their diet, reduce unnecessary fatty foods and include more fruit and vegetables.

The idea is the good influence will benefit children in the family and reduce or avoid weight gain.

"It's mum and dad doing it, and sharing it with the kids," says Matt.

Getting kids to exercise

Getting children up and outside for a little activity is as important as diet when it comes to keeping children at a healthy weight. Shirley recommends at least one hour's physical activity each day.

With younger children there is likely to be lots of running around during lunch and recess, but this is less likely as children get older – in late primary and high school years. Limiting screen time and taking time to walk the dog, walk to school or look after a garden are easy ways of making activity a regular part of children's days.

It can make a huge difference if you just make a slight alteration to the household habits, says Shirley.

"And these habits are good for everybody in the family regardless whether or not there is a weight issue."

Five ways to keep your child's weight down

  1. Do an hour of activity every day that works up a small sweat and gets the heart pounding.
  2. Choose water as the main drink of the day.
  3. Eat more fruit and vegetables.
  4. Turn off the TV or computer and get active.
  5. Eat fewer snacks and select healthier alternatives.

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