Helping Your Child Who Is Overweight – NIDDK – National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

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Children gain weight as they grow and develop, so it’s not always easy to tell if your child is overweight. For some children, extra weight goes away as they grow taller. But some children who continue to gain too much weight over time may develop obesity. Obesity is a disease that increases the risk of developing many health problems. Having obesity as a child or teen also makes it more likely your child will have obesity and related health problems as an adult.1
Mother and son reading a book together at home.It’s not always easy to tell if your child is overweight.
As a parent or other caregiver, you may be able to help your child reach and stay at a healthy weight by working together to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, such as
If you’re not sure what changes to make, ask a health care professional for guidance. Your child’s doctor, a nurse practitioner, a registered dietitian, a weight-control specialist, or another health care professional can identify lifestyle habits that support healthy child growth and development. These habits may also help your child reach and stay at a healthy weight. A health care professional can also discuss other treatments for overweight and obesity that may help your child reach a healthy weight.
Overweight and obesity are common among children and teens in the United States. Among young people ages 2 to 19 years, about
Obesity rates increase as children get older. Obesity is also more common among children from certain racial and ethnic minority groups. Among children and teens ages 2 to 19, obesity affects about3
Many factors can contribute to overweight and obesity in children, including4,5
A child’s weight can also be affected by the mother’s pregnancy. If a mother has obesity or gains too much weight during pregnancy, it increases the chance that the child will be born larger than expected and develop obesity later in life.6
Being overweight or having obesity can increase the chances that your child may develop health problems, such as4
Some children who are overweight or have obesity may experience weight-related teasing or bullying, which can affect their mental health. Children with overweight or obesity may have a higher risk of developing mental health problems, including5
One way to find out if your child is at a healthy weight is by calculating his or her body mass index (BMI), a measurement based on a person’s height and weight. The next step is to compare your child’s BMI with the BMI of other children who are the same age and sex, based on growth charts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This will give your child’s “BMI-for-age percentile,” a number that can tell you if your child is underweight, is at a healthy weight, is overweight, or has obesity.
This online tool from the CDC lets you calculate your child’s BMI and BMI-for-age percentile.
If you are worried about your child’s weight, talk with your health care professional. In many cases, children who are overweight don’t need to lose weight, but they need to gain weight more slowly as they continue to grow in height. To determine if your child weighs too much or is gaining weight too quickly, your health care professional will consider many factors, such as4
Your child may be able to reach and stay at a healthy weight if you help them adopt healthier lifestyle habits, such as following a healthy eating plan, getting regular physical activity, limiting screen time, and getting enough sleep.
Children need meals and snacks that are high in nutrients to help them grow. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 recommend that children consume a variety of foods and beverages, including
The guidelines also recommend children limit foods and beverages that are high in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium  or salt. These foods and beverages can add a lot of extra calories without adding much nutrition. Here are some tips for replacing them with healthier options.
If your child is overweight or is gaining weight too quickly, cutting back on high-calorie foods and beverages can help. Here are some ways to help your child cut back on extra calories.
Smiling girl eating a bowl of fruit salad.Make healthy food options available and within easy reach of your child.
Childhood is the ideal time to develop healthy eating habits that your child can carry into adulthood. To help your child develop a healthy attitude toward food and eating
The MyPlate website, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, offers many other tips and resources on healthy eating, including guidance on healthy eating on a budget.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition(PDF, 14.5 MB) recommend that children ages 3 to 5 be physically active throughout the day to help them grow and develop.
Older children ages 6 to 17 should get at least 1 hour of physical activity every day. Their activities should include
As a parent or other caregiver, you can play a key role in helping your child be more active. Options for adding more physical activity to your child’s daily routine include
Research suggests that kids who spend a lot of time watching television and who have a television in their bedrooms may have a higher risk of having childhood obesity.7 Experts recommend limiting how much time children spend watching television, playing video games, or using smartphones or other devices when not using them for schoolwork.
An easy rule of thumb is to limit screen time not spent on schoolwork to 1 to 2 hours per day.8 Another option is to set screen time limits for each person in your household. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that parents and other caregivers of children ages 5 and older work with a health care professional to create a Family Media Use Plan.9
To limit your child’s screen time7,9
Just like following a healthy eating plan and engaging in regular physical activity, getting enough sleep is important for your child’s mental and physical health. Getting enough sleep can help your child do well in school, fight off illnesses and infections, and reach and maintain a healthy weight.10,11
Children need more sleep than adults. Recommended sleep time varies by age.11 The table below shows the amount of sleep recommended for each age group.
Recommended sleep time for children and teens
Having a television, computer, or mobile device in the bedroom—or spending a lot of time using these devices during the day—may delay or disrupt your child’s sleep.7,9 The blue light from screens can block the production of a hormone called melatonin that supports healthy sleep, especially when children have screen time before bedtime. Viewing media content that is exciting or engaging may also keep children awake past their bedtimes.
To help your child get enough sleep at night
There are several things you can do to help your child adopt healthy lifestyle habits.
Talk with your child about health, including
Children are good learners, and they often copy what they see. Be a good role model by making healthy lifestyle choices yourself.
Children need support, understanding, and encouragement from caring adults. Their feelings about themselves are often based on how they think their parents and other caregivers feel about them. Tell your child that they are loved, special, and important.
Studies suggest that a parenting style that combines setting rules and limits with warmth—called authoritative parenting—may help children adopt healthy behaviors that support a healthy weight.5,12 Children in homes that use this style of parenting tend to understand authority and rules, but also feel comfortable seeking support from their caregivers.
Motivate your child to make healthy lifestyle choices by
Your health care professional may recommend a weight-loss plan tailored to your child’s needs or refer you to a weight-management specialist or a registered dietitian. Your local hospital, a community health clinic, or the health department may offer weight-management programs for children and teens or have information about where your child can enroll in one. Don’t put your child on a weight-loss plan without the help of your health care professional.
If your child is 12 or older and has obesity, ask your health care professional about other treatment options, such as
Treatments such as medicines and surgery don’t replace lifestyle changes as a way for your child to lose weight. These treatments work best when your child is physically active and consumes healthy foods and beverages.13
NIDDK conducts and supports clinical trials in many diseases and conditions, including overweight and obesity. The trials look to find new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease and improve quality of life.
Children respond to medicines and treatments differently than adults. The way to get the best treatments for children is through research designed specifically for them.
We have already made great strides in improving children’s health outcomes through clinical trials and other types of clinical studies. Vaccines, treatments for children with cancer, and interventions for premature babies are just a few examples of how this targeted research can help. However, we still have many questions to answer and more children waiting to benefit.
The data gathered from trials and studies involving children help health care professionals and researchers
We understand you have many questions, want to weigh the pros and cons, and need to learn as much as possible. Deciding to enroll in a study can be life changing for you and for your child. Depending on the outcome of the study, your child may find relief from their condition, see no benefit, or help to improve the health of future generations.
Talk with your child and consider what would be expected. What could be the potential benefit or harm? Would you need to travel? Is my child well enough to participate? While parents or guardians must give their permission, or consent, for their children to join a study, the children must also agree to participate, if they are capable (verbal). In the end, no choice is right or wrong. Your decision is about what is best for your child.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is committed to ensuring you get all the information you need to feel comfortable and make informed decisions. The safety of children remains the utmost priority for all NIH research studies. For more resources to help decide if clinical trials are right for your child, visit Clinical Trials and You: Parents and Children.
Researchers are studying many aspects of overweight and obesity, such as
Watch a video of NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers explaining the importance of participating in clinical trials.
You can view a filtered list of clinical studies on overweight or obesity in children that are federally funded, open, and recruiting at You can expand or narrow the list to include clinical studies from industry, universities, and individuals; however, NIH does not review these studies and cannot ensure they are safe. If you find a trial you think may be right for your child, talk with your child’s health care provider about how to enroll.
[1] Drozdz D, Alvarez-Pitti J, Wójcik M, et al. Obesity and cardiometabolic risk factors: from childhood to adulthood. Nutrients. 2021;13(11):1–20. doi:10.3390/nu13114176
[2] Fryar CD, Carroll MD, Afful J. Prevalence of overweight, obesity, and severe obesity among children and adolescents aged 2–19 years: United States, 1963–1965 through 2017–2018. NCHS Health E-Stats. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2020. (PDF, 352 KB)
[3] Stierman B, Afful J, Carroll MD, et al. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2017–March 2020 prepandemic data files: Development of files and prevalence estimates for selected health outcomes. National Health Statistics Reports. 2021;(158):1–20. doi:10.15620/cdc:106273
[4] Kohut T, Robbins J, Panganiban J. Update on childhood/adolescent obesity and its sequela. Current Opinion in Pediatrics. 2019;31(5):645–653. doi:10.1097/MOP.0000000000000786
[5] Smith JD, Fu E, Kobayashi MA. Prevention and management of childhood obesity and its psychological and health comorbidities. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. 2020;16:351–378. doi:10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-100219-060201
[6] Godfrey KM, Reynolds RM, Prescott SL, et al. Influence of maternal obesity on the long-term health of offspring. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinology. 2017;5(1):53–64. doi:10.1016/s2213-8587(16)30107-3
[7] Council on Communications and Media. Media and young minds. Pediatrics. 2016;138(5):1–6. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2591
[8] Styne DM, Arslanian SA, Connor EL, et al. Pediatric obesity—assessment, treatment, and prevention: an Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2017;102(3):709–757. doi:10.1210/jc.2016-2573
[9] Hill D, Ameenuddin N, Chassiakos YLR, et al. Media use in school-aged children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2016;138(5):1–6. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2592
[10] Daniels SR, Hassink SG, Abrams SA, et al. The role of the pediatrician in primary prevention of obesity. Pediatrics. 2015;136(1):e275–e292. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-1558
[11] Paruthi S, Brooks LJ, D’Ambrosio C, et al. Recommended amount of sleep for pediatric populations: a consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2016;12(6):785–786. doi:10.5664/jcsm.5866
[12] Kiefner-Burmeister A, Hinman N. The role of general parenting style in child diet and obesity risk. Current Nutrition Reports. 2020;9(1):14–30. doi:10.1007/s13668-020-00301-9
[13] Hampl SE, Hassink SG, Skinner AC, et al. Clinical practice guideline for the evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents with obesity. Pediatrics. 2023;151(2):e2022060640. doi:10.1542/peds.2022-060640
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

NIDDK would like to thank:
Thomas Robinson, M.D., M.P.H., Stanford University


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