Many factors contribute to weight problems in children. A tendency to be “overweight,” defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a body mass index between 25 and 29.9, runs in families. However, this does not mean that a child is sure to be overweight. Heredity is just one part of the picture. Family patterns such as eating and activity habits may have a much stronger influence on weight than heredity.
Family Eating Patterns
The types and amounts of foods available at home can lead to unwanted weight gain during childhood. For example, children who drink lots of sugar-sweetened beverages tend to put on excess pounds. Sodas and other sugary drinks are best for special occasions. Eating at restaurants or fast food places more than once a week also may cause kids to gain weight. Home snacking habits are another risk factor. Instead of chips and candies, keep fruits and vegetables and other healthy snacks around for in-between meals.
Misuse of Food
Another thing that can increase a child’s risk for obesity is using food for punishment or reward. Restricting food can lead to overeating and poor self-control with regards to stopping when the sensation of fullness kicks in. Rewarding with foods also can increase a child’s risk for weight gain. Often food rewards are sweets and other treats. This can increase a kid’s preference for desserts and other high sugar foods.
Physical Activity Level
Spending a lot of time in front of the TV or computer can lead to weight gain. These activities don't use much energy. Watching TV burns about 50 calories per hour. Playing tag burns about 500 calories per hour!
Help your child to be active every day. Limit total time in front of the screen to one or two hours per day. Have your child get up and move around during commercials. Encourage your child to do other activities. Many kids snack on high-calorie foods, such as crackers, chips and cookies, while they watch TV or play computer games. This may add to weight gain. Try having a family rule against eating while watching TV, using the computer or playing video games.
Instead, promote mindful eating during meals and snacks at the table.
Some medicines may increase weight gain or appetite. Check with your child's doctor about the side effects of their medicines. If a drug increases risk of weight gain, ask if your child can take different medicines. Also, if your child is gaining weight, ask for a referral to a registered dietitian nutritionist. An RDN can offer guidance on cutting back on calories while still getting the nutrients needed for growth.
Children who are always hungry may be eating for emotional reasons. They may use food to avoid strong feelings that can be uncomfortable or hard to handle.
Feelings can be overwhelming. If kids eat as a way of dealing with feelings, they can forget what it feels like to be hungry. These children may need help learning how to deal with feelings in a healthy way. Remind your child that emotions are normal. Explain that food may make them feel better for a little while, but the problems are still there.
Talk to your child's doctor or an RDN about how to find out what is going on with your child.