Healthy weight

Children and young people

If you've learned that your child or teenager is overweight, there are simple steps you can take, with support if you want it, to help your child move towards a healthy weight. Your child’s weight matters, because it can affect their health now and in the future. Overweight children are more likely to grow up into overweight adults, who face all the health risks that carrying excess weight can bring.

If your child is overweight, it's time to take action.

Growing pains

Children are growing, so it’s usually not necessary for overweight children to lose weight. Instead, it is usually better that the child maintains their current weight while they continue to grow in height. This will depend on how overweight your child is, and other factors.

If you’re unsure about this or other issues, ask for advice from your GP or practice nurse. 

Get moving!

Being active is also an important part of achieving a healthy weight. The amount of physical activity that is recommended for children depends on age, and children who are overweight may need to do more than the recommended amount in order to lose weight.

Children aged under five should do 180 minutes every day Young people (aged five to 18) should do 60 minutes every day.

Aim to reduce the amount of time your child spends on inactive hobbies, such as watching television and playing video games. Encourage children to take up sports or after school clubs.

In order to achieve a healthy weight, this activity should be accompanied by changes to diet. The good news is that there are steps you can take that will set your child on the road to a healthy weight. If your child is very overweight, or if they have other health conditions, it’s a good idea to ask for support. 

Your child at school

The school that your child attends should support you in helping your child to achieve a healthy weight.

All schools should provide opportunities for physical activity, and healthy food at lunch time. Some schools help to ensure that your child does not bring unhealthy foods to school, by working with parents to set guidelines on packed lunches.

If your child is overweight, you can talk to your child's teachers about your plans to help your child achieve a healthy weight, and how the school can support this.

You’ll find ideas for healthy packed lunches on the Change 4 Life website.

Positive body image

It’s also important to help your child develop a positive body image and good self-esteem. Habits in childhood will remain as they grow into adults, so praise them when they try healthier foods or when they swap a sedentary activity for an active one.

If you think your child may have a poor self-image look for advice at www.b-eat.co.uk.

Change as a family

A healthy, balanced diet and plenty of physical activity will lead to a healthy weight for your child.  Making changes to your family’s lifestyle can make a real difference to your child’s weight. 

These changes work best, and are easiest, when the whole family joins in.  Regular meals, eaten together and without distractions (such as TV) are a great first step towards a healthier diet. Cooking yourself rather than relying on ready-made meals can help you to lower the fat and sugar content in your meals.

If your family eats snacks that are high in fat or sugar, such as chocolate, biscuits, sweets and fizzy drinks, aim to replace these with healthier alternatives such as fruit.

You can learn more about the lifestyle changes that can help your child at the Change 4 Life website.

Getting support

If you feel uncertain about helping your child to achieve a healthy weight, or the changes you’ve made don’t seem to be helping, then seek support.  This is also a good idea if your child is very overweight, has a health condition or any other special needs such as a learning difficulty.

Your GP or practice nurse can assess your child’s weight and provide further advice on lifestyle changes.  They may also be able to refer you to a local weight management programme for children, such as those run by a project called MEND. 

These programmes are free to attend through your local health services, and typically involve a series of weekly group workshop sessions with other parents and their children.  At these workshops you’ll learn more about the diet and lifestyle changes that can help your child to achieve a healthy weight.