The Basics: Overview
Help your child — and your whole family — eat healthy and stay physically active. The healthy habits your child learns now can last a lifetime.
What can I do to help my child stay at a healthy weight?
Help your child stay at a healthy weight by encouraging healthy eating and physical activity habits. Two of the best ways to help your child stay at a healthy weight are to:
- Help your child and family eat healthier foods
- Be more physically active as a family
You are a role model.
Parents and caregivers are often the most important role models for children. When you choose to eat healthy and be physically active, your child will be more likely to make those choices, too.
Plus, being active and preparing healthy meals together are great ways to spend quality time with your family.
Share these websites with your kids.
These kid-friendly websites can help children learn about healthy habits.
The Basics: Health Effects
Why is it important for my child to stay at a healthy weight?
Being overweight or having obesity can lead to serious problems, like:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Sleep problems
- Heart disease
- Bone and joint problems
Being overweight or having obesity as a child is also linked to:
- Anxiety and depression
- Low self-esteem
- Getting bullied
Being overweight as a child increases the risk of being overweight or having obesity as an adolescent and young adult. In other words, many kids don’t “grow out of” being overweight.
Today, about 7 in 10 adults – and about 4 in 10 children and teens – are overweight or have obesity.
The Basics: Measuring BMI
How do I know if my child is at a healthy weight?
For children age 2 and older, finding out your child’s body mass index (BMI) is one way to learn if they’re at a healthy weight. Children grow at different rates, so it’s not always easy to tell if your child is at a healthy weight. Healthy weight is also defined differently for children and teens than it is for adults.
Ask your child’s doctor or nurse whether your child is at a healthy weight. You can also use this BMI calculator for children and teens if you know your child’s height and weight.
What if my child is overweight or has obesity?
You can help your child make healthy choices and learn healthy habits, like eating healthy and being physically active. For kids who are overweight or have obesity, the goal is to slow down weight gain while allowing for healthy growth and development. You can do this by helping kids:
- Get regular physical activity
- Enjoy a variety of healthy foods from each food group, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy, and protein foods
- See you making healthy choices, like eating vegetables instead of chips or drinking water instead of soda
- Limit foods and drinks that have a lot of calories but not many nutrients, like foods and drinks higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium
Talk to your child’s doctor or nurse for more information.
You can also check out these resources to learn how to cut down on:
Take Action: See a Doctor
Ask the doctor to screen your child for obesity.
Your child’s doctor or nurse can calculate your child’s BMI and let you know if your child is at a healthy weight. If your child is overweight or has obesity, ask the doctor or nurse for tips. They can also help you find a weight management program for your child if needed.
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover obesity screening and counseling for kids. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get these services at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more.
Your child may also qualify for free or low-cost health insurance through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Learn about coverage options for your family.
If you don’t have insurance, you may still be able to get free or low-cost obesity screening and counseling for your child. Find a health center near you and ask about obesity-related services for kids.
To learn more, check out these resources:
Take Action: Physical Activity
Make sure your child gets at least 60 minutes (1 hour) of physical activity every day.
Fun and simple activities, like playing tag, are great ways for kids to get moving. And it doesn’t have to be 60 minutes all at once – it can be shorter activities that add up to 60 minutes (1 hour) a day.
Be sure your child is doing different types of activity, including:
- Aerobic activities, like running, skipping, or dancing
- Muscle-strengthening activities, like climbing playground equipment or trees
- Bone-strengthening activities, like jumping rope or playing basketball
Get active as a family.
To help the whole family get more physical activity, you can:
- Let children choose family activities
- Try walking the dog or biking to the library together
- Dance while dinner’s in the oven
- Post a family activity calendar on your refrigerator
- Find a park to explore near your home
Take Action: Screen Time
Keep screen time to 2 hours or less a day for kids age 2 and older. Screen time can include time spent using computers or smartphones, watching TV, or playing video games. To limit screen time:
- Set clear rules about when and for how long your child can do activities involving screen time
- Keep the TV out of your child’s room
- Use this screen time log [PDF – 144 KB] to track how much time your family is spending in front of screens
Take Action: Healthy Meals
Shop, cook, and plan for healthy meals together.
Buy and serve more vegetables, fruits, whole-grain foods, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and a variety of protein foods. Be sure to offer a variety of healthy foods from different food groups at each meal.
Here are some tips and ideas for healthy eating as a family:
- Let your child pick out healthy foods to try — and remember it can take young kids up to 8 or 10 times to accept a new food
- Offer healthy beverages — like water or plain fat-free or low-fat milk (children under age 2 can drink whole milk) — instead of soda, flavored milks, or fruit drinks with added sugars
- Encourage your child to get most of their fruit from whole fruits and limit 100% fruit juice to small amounts (don’t give juice to kids younger than 12 months)
- Try preparing healthy foods in different ways — for example, try the same vegetable raw, roasted, and steamed with herbs and spices
- At snack time, give your child carrot sticks and hummus or apple slices with peanut butter instead of chips or cookies
- Start your child’s day off with a healthy breakfast — for example, offer whole-grain cereal with fat-free or low-fat milk and fruit instead of sugary cereal
- Encourage your child to stop eating when they’re full instead of when the plate is clean
Use these resources to:
- Learn how to help your child build a healthy eating routine [PDF – 1. 6 MB]
- Make a shopping list with healthy foods [PDF – 107 KB]
- Read the Nutrition Facts label on packages to help you make healthy choices
- Get more tips for smart food shopping
- Get more ideas for healthy snacks
Set a good example by eating healthy.
You can be a role model for your child by eating healthy yourself. Plus, a healthy diet can help protect you from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. Get the facts about eating healthy.
Need help paying for food?
There are programs that can help you pay for healthy food for your family. Ask your child’s doctor about:
- WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), a government program that supports people who are pregnant and breastfeeding and kids age 5 and younger. You can also use this tool to see if you qualify for WIC.
- SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) — a government program that can help families with lower incomes buy food. You can also use this tool to see if you qualify for SNAP.
Sit at the table and eat together as a family.
Enjoy the healthy meals you plan and cook together as a family. When families eat together, children eat more vegetables and fruits and fewer foods with added sugars. Let children help get ready for dinner time by setting the table.
Take Action: Sleep
Make sure your child gets enough sleep.
If kids don’t get enough sleep, they are at higher risk of being overweight or having obesity. Make sure you know how much sleep your child needs:
- Teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night
- School-aged children need 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night
- Preschoolers need to sleep between 10 and 13 hours each day (including naps)
- Toddlers need to sleep between 11 and 14 hours a day (including naps)
- Babies need between 12 and 16 hours of sleep each day (including naps)
Set a bedtime schedule and remind your child when it’s time to get ready for bed. Consider keeping electronic devices – like TVs, computers, and smart phones – out of the bedroom. Get more tips on healthy sleep habits.