Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Gentle Weight Management for Children

I’ve received a couple of calls recently either from parents worried about their children’s weight or by parents worried about their children being worried about their weight.  

Weight is a sensitive issue for most people and it is just as sensitive an issue for children which is why I am sometimes amazed by the harshness of the comments made directly to the child as well as dismayed by the situations I’ve heard about where a child is given a ‘telling off’ or ‘warning’ by their medical doctor or paediatrician.

It is so incredibly important that every child knows they are loved by their parents for who they are.  Forgot the after school activities and the expensive presents, the best gift you can give to your child is to let them know that you love them exactly the way they are.  Yes, we may not like the way they behave sometimes, but in terms of their appearance, they need to know that they are (in our eyes) completely and utterly perfect!  I do worry that constant criticism of a child’s weight destroys their confidence as well as increasing the risk of the child having disordered eating patterns later on.  As parents we should be as ferocious as Rottweiler’s in defending our children against any unkind or thoughtless comments as well as taking care not to make insensitive comments ourselves.

So, what can you do if you feel that your child might be putting on a little bit too much weight?
  • Check their growth curves
Most children tend to roughly follow the weight and height curves of their birth and after their first year there is a steady growth rate just up to the puberty spurt (9-14 for girls) and (10-17 for boys). Note that BMI is measured in a different way for children as it takes into account their age and gender and uses percentiles to assess it relative to other children of the same age and sex. If your child is rocketing upwards in terms of their weight, you could discuss your concern with your family doctor but I would not do this in front of the child, it is better to have this discussion alone. 
  • Do not put them on a diet and don’t start to talk constantly about weights and diets. Focus instead on healthy eating, having more energy for sport etc
Most children do not need to be put on a diet and certainly should not be ‘losing’ weight. They are still growing and developing so it is incredibly important they receive the nutrients they need.  If a child is overweight, the aim is simply to slow down the rate at which the child is gaining weight.
  •  Review the family diet
Take a long and honest look at the family diet and make subtle healthy changes for the whole family.  Do not single the child out!  The usual culprits are sugars (cakes, biscuits, sweets but also hidden sugars - sweetened yoghurts, white bread, crisps and breakfast cereals), too many snacks and large portion sizes.  I often find that many children ask for food simply because they are bored - a child does not really need to eat again within a couple of hours of having a meal.  Offer fresh fruit, plain biscuits or unsweetened yoghurts between meals if your child really is hungry (and often when they are offered this type of selection they magically decide that they are not hungry!) and never offer food as a ‘reward’ or to ‘comfort’.  Limit unhealthy foods, but do not ban them completely.   Remember that our roles as parents is to teach our children to moderate their food intake on their own and refusing to let them eat certain foods does not help them do this.  
  • Check their levels of physical activity 
Ideally our children should be moving around at a moderate level for at least 60 minutes a day.  Tempting as it is to let them sit in front of the Wii or their DSs, do try to include sport and games in their daily routine.  I’d also add here that we should not force our children to do sports, particularly if they dislike team sports.  Try to find activities they enjoy and that you can share with them, such as walking, cycling and dancing.  Plan family activities at the weekend to include a long walk, swimming or bike ride and make sure your children see you moving around too!
  • Give them compliments
Boost your child’s confidence, particularly if they are might be feeling self conscious and worried about their weight.  Let them know how incredibly amazing you think they are, compliment them as much as possible and plan enjoyable activities you can do with them.  

And finally, if anyone ever gives you or your child a hard time about their weight, then please send them to see me and I will sort them out!

As always a recipe.  This time a winner of a cookie recipe, perfect after a long Sunday family walk with hot chocolate for the children and tea for the adults.  It is high in fat and sugar and yes, I could play around with it to make it healthier, but in the spirit of this blog post I won’t.  This recipe is perfect exactly as it is!

Charlotte’s cookies

Makes 10-12

Heat oven to 200 degrees.
Blend 125g butter and 100g of castor sugar in a food processor until creamy.  Add 1 large egg yolk and a couple of drops of vanilla extract, and whizz again before before adding 125g plain flour and 100g chocolate chunks.  Use floured hands as dough will be very soft and shape into ‘flattened golf balls’.  Place on baking tray covered with grease proof non stick paper and bake for 10-15 minutes.

Resist eating straight away and drag the family out for a long walk before coming back to demolish them!


  1. Excellent post, really thoughtful and constructive! I think it works equally well for parents worried about their kids being underweight (and the equally thoughtless comments from pediatricians) or not eating enough. As you say, keep in mind the overall growth curves and their general health, make sure they have a healthy balanced diet, and love them the way they are!

  2. Excellent and interesting post, but most of all ... Amazing kids, Charlotte !! You all look beautiful !!
    Big kiss . Mara