Learn healthy eating and physical activity habits
that may last for a lifetime.
EATING AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY habits are key to your child’s well-being.
Eating too much and exercising too little can lead to overweight and
related health problems that can follow children into adult years. You can
take an active role in helping your child—and your whole family—learn
healthy eating and physical activity habits that may last for a
|Is my child
Because children grow at different rates at different times, it is
not always easy to tell if a child is overweight. If you think that your
child is overweight, talk to your health care provider. Your health care
provider can measure your child’s height and weight and tell you if your
child is in a healthy range.
I help my overweight child?
Do not put your child on a weight-loss diet unless
your health care provider tells you to. If children do not eat enough,
they may not grow and learn as well as they should.
Involve the whole family in
building healthy eating and physical activity habits. It benefits everyone
and does not single out the child who is overweight. Try to:
Be a positive role
your child that he or she is loved, is special, and is important.
Children’s feelings about themselves often are based on their parents’
feelings about them.
Accept your child at any weight. Children will be more likely to
accept and feel good about themselves when their parents accept
Listen to your child’s concerns about his or her weight.
Overweight children probably know better than anyone else that they have
a weight problem. For this reason, overweight children need support,
acceptance, and encouragement from parents.
and serve more fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned). Let
your child choose them at the store.
buying soft drinks and high fat/high calorie snack foods like chips,
cookies, and candy. If children do not see these foods at home, they
will be less likely to ask for them and you will not have to say “no.”
Choose healthy snack foods.
breakfast every day. Skipping breakfast can leave your child hungry,
tired, and looking for less healthy foods later in the day.
healthy meals and eat together as a family. Planning the week’s meals
and grocery shopping can help save you time and money. Sitting together
at meal times helps children learn to enjoy a variety of
fast food less often. When you visit a fast food restaurant, take
advantage of the healthful options offered.
Here are more tips to
encourage healthy eating habits:
not get discouraged if your child will not eat a new food the first time
it is served. Some kids will need to have a new food served to them 10
times or more before they will eat it.
not to use food as a reward when encouraging kids to eat. Promising
dessert to a child for eating vegetables, for example, sends the message
that vegetables are less valuable than dessert. Kids learn to dislike
foods they think are less valuable.
not try to control the amount of food your child eats. It is up to you
to provide your child with healthy meals and snacks, but your child
should be allowed to choose how much food he or she will eat.
foods for your child to try
canned in juice or light syrup, such as mandarin oranges, peaches, or
amounts of dried fruits such as raisins, apple rings, or
vegetables such as baby carrots, cucumber, zucchini, or tomatoes cut and
served with low-fat salad dressing for dipping
Reduced fat cheese served with whole-wheat
Low-fat yogurt with fruit
spread with small amount of peanut butter
Graham crackers, animal crackers, or low-fat vanilla
Tortilla spread with low-fat refried beans
Foods that are small, round, sticky, or hard to chew, such as
raisins, whole grapes, hard vegetables, hard chunks of cheese, nuts,
seeds, and popcorn can cause choking. These foods are not good choices for
preschool age children.
Fun physical activities for your
child to try:
Riding a bike
Climbing on a
Swinging on a swing
Bouncing a ball
Like adults, kids need daily physical activity. Here are some
ways to help your child move every day:
appropriate and safe, let your child walk places such as to school, the
store, or to friends’ houses.
Encourage your child to take physical education (PE) class at
school, if available.
Encourage your child to join a sports team or class, such as
soccer, dance, basketball, or gymnastics.
active together as a family. Assign active chores such as making the
beds, washing the car, or vacuuming. Plan active outings such as a trip
to the zoo or a walk through a local park.
Because his or her body is not ready yet, do not encourage your
pre-adolescent child to participate in adult-style physical activity such
as long jogs, using an exercise bike or treadmill, or lifting heavy
weights. FUN physical activities are best for kids.
Kids need a total of about 60 minutes of physical activity a day,
but this does not have to be all at one time. Short 10- or even 5-minute
bouts of activity throughout the day are just as good.
limits on the amount of time your family spends watching TV and videos,
and playing video games.
your child find FUN things to do besides watching TV. Your child may
find that creative play is more interesting than television.
together instead of watching TV. Read at home or volunteer to read to
others. Read to adults and children at your local hospital or sign up to
help people learn to read.
Encourage your child to get up and move during commercials and
discourage snacking when the TV is on.
for you and your child to do besides watching TV
Take turns acting out favorite books or stories, or
singing along to favorite songs. Use old clothes for
Make instruments out of kitchen items and dance to the
music you make. Shake a jar filled with macaroni and beat on a plastic
bowl with wooden spoons.
Play schoolyard games at home. Make a hopscotch on the
floor with masking tape, play follow-the-leader or “Simon says,” and
toss balls into a basket.
a family art project. Trace cookie cutters on paper, make masks out
of paper bags, design a paper airplane, or cut and glue pictures to a
piece of paper.
camping at home. Make a tent by putting a sheet over a table or use
a big box as a tent, make a sleeping bag from a blanket, and sing
|Be a positive
Children are good learners and they learn what they see. Choose
healthy foods and active pastimes for yourself. Your children will see
that they can follow healthy habits that last for the rest of their
Your health care provider
Ask your health care provider for brochures, booklets, or other
informational materials about healthy eating, physical activity, and
weight control. Your health care provider may be able to refer you to
other health care professionals who work with overweight children, such as
registered dietitians, psychologists, and exercise
Your local library
Ask a librarian to help you locate books about weight control for
children. Books should be written by a health professional and should
encourage the whole family to build healthy eating and physical activity
habits. Avoid books that promise quick results or encourage fad
Many libraries sponsor talks about a variety of topics, including
health. Ask a librarian if any talks about healthy eating, physical
activity, or weight control for children are scheduled.
Look for websites about healthy eating, physical activity, and
weight control for children. When searching the Internet, avoid websites
that promise quick results, encourage fad diets, or ask you to buy
something such as pills, food, or exercise equipment.
Here are some resources that you can look at on the
County extension office
Locate the cooperative extension office for your county by looking
in the government section of your phone book under the name of your
county. Your extension office may offer free or low-cost materials or
classes in cooking and nutrition.
Your local recreation center or community
Sign up for physical activity classes or programs for families or
You may want to think about a treatment program if:
locate a weight-control program for your child, you may wish to contact
your local hospital, university, or college.
overall goal of a treatment program should be to help your whole family
adopt healthy eating and physical activity habits that you can keep up for
the rest of your lives. Here are some other things a weight-control
program should do:
Include a variety of health care professionals on staff: doctors,
RDs, psychiatrists or psychologists, and/or exercise
Evaluate your child’s weight, growth, and health before enrolling
in the program and watch these factors while enrolled.
to the specific age and abilities of your child. Programs for
4-year-olds should be different from those for 12-year-olds.
your family keep up healthy eating and physical activity behaviors after
the program ends.
Weight-control Information Network
1 Win Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3665
Tel: (202) 828-1025 or
Fax: (202) 828-1028
The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a national
service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney
Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, which is the Federal
Government’s lead agency responsible for biomedical research on
nutrition and obesity. Authorized by Congress (Public Law 103-43), WIN
provides the general public, health professionals, the media, and
Congress with up-to-date, science-based health information on weight
control, obesity, physical activity, and related nutritional issues.
WIN answers inquiries, develops and distributes publications, and
works closely with professional and patient organizations and Government
agencies to coordinate resources about weight control and related
Publications produced by WIN are reviewed by both NIDDK
scientists and outside experts. This fact sheet was also reviewed by
Leonard Epstein, Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics, Social and Preventive
Medicine, and Psychology, University of Buffalo School and Medicine and
Biomedical Sciences, and Gladys Gary Vaughn, Ph.D., National Program
Leader, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Services,
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
e-text is not copyrighted. WIN encourages users of this e-pub to
duplicate and distribute as many copies as
Publication No. 03-4096
e-text posted: June