In the U.S. obesity is a serious health issue for both adults and children. Every one out of three children in America ages 6 to 11 is overweight or obese.

There are many health conditions associated with obesity. Being overweight or obese could lead to high cholesterol, asthma, a weaker immune system, arthritis, cancer or heart disease. Carrying extra body weight could also lead to developing Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.

Signs your child might be overweight
Sometimes parents might brush off weight gain in their child by calling it “baby fat” or saying “it’s just a stage.” However, you shouldn’t ignore a child’s weight problem. Signs your child might be overweight include:

  • Trouble sleeping or snoring at night
  • Pants are tight and child has difficulty buttoning clothes that once fit
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty exercising or climbing stairs

If you’re concerned about your child becoming overweight, schedule a visit with your pediatrician. Your child’s doctor will compare their age with a BMI chart. A child is considered overweight when his or her BMI is above the 85th percentile. A child is considered obese if their BMI is at or above the 95th percentile.

Helping your child lose weight
Before adopting any new diet or healthy eating plan for your kid, talk to your pediatrician first. Depending on the age group, there are some general guidelines for monitoring a child’s weight or helping them keep their weight under control:

  • Ages 2 to 5 years — Children age 2 to 5 are still growing and developing. If a child in this age range is overweight or obese, the focus is not on losing weight, but on decreasing or stopping the extra weight gain.
  • Ages 6 to 11 years — Children in this age range are also still growing. A pediatrician might not recommend that weight loss be the main concern here. Instead, the emphasis should be on eating healthy and making sure a child gets enough physical activity.
  • Ages 12 to 18 years — Once a child who is overweight or obese hits puberty, losing weight becomes more of a priority. Teenagers should avoid fried food, sugary drinks, junk food and eat a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables.

For children who are severely overweight or obese, some pediatricians don’t recommend that these children do a lot of intense or strenuous physical activity. It’s better to start with walking and increase from there.

Combat obesity by making healthy eating a family activity
If your child has a weight problem, set a positive example by adopting your own healthy diet and exercise habits. In many cases, an obesity intervention will not work if the parents don’t participate.

Healthy eating starts at home. Replace the junk food in your cupboards, including chips and sugary sodas, with healthier snacks for kids to munch on. For parents with teenagers, it’s impossible to monitor everything they eat at school or when hanging out with friends. However, eating healthy at home can go a long way in helping children establish good habits and maintain a well-balanced diet. Cooking family meals together is another way to teach your children how to eat more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods.