What to do if your child gains too much weight

  • Your pediatrician can help you make sure your child is eating healthy meals.

    Your pediatrician can help you make sure your child is eating healthy meals. Stock Photo

  • Dr. Lori Walsh

    Dr. Lori Walsh

By Dr. Lori Walsh
Advocate Children’s Hospital
Updated 9/12/2021 5:38 PM

It can make you feel helpless. The pediatrician has noticed your child's weight gain -- the same weight gain that has been troubling you.

As pediatricians, we help families sort out the reasons behind added pounds. It can be a medical condition, activity levels or eating habits. We'll ask questions. If we don't find a medical reason, how might a family's lifestyle be impacting your child's weight?


Having a discussion with your pediatrician may help uncover opportunities for incorporating healthier choices. After learning more about a family; who lives in the household, who cooks and identifying the top three reasons for weight gain (portion size, snacking, sugar-sweetened beverages, etc.), we can begin education and offer practical ways to problem-solve.

For example, I educate on plant-based eating and how it translates into healthy body growth and function. Teaching around portions for older children can involve a plate with partitions and labels. For younger children, portions are smaller, so we focus on accessibility to snacks between meals and sugar-sweetened beverages. Another simple tip: look at your plate, make sure half of what's on it is vegetables and fruits and that it's as colorful as possible. Substituting a high-calorie food with something equally delicious, but more nutrient dense, is another way to shift eating patterns. These are good messages for both children and parents.

Helping your child lose weight and eat healthier is not easy. It's hard for a parent to restrict the foods your children love, even if they are unhealthy. But it's our job as parents to provide food, and it's the child's job to eat. They may complain, but if you provide good food, they'll eat if they are hungry (note that this doesn't hold true for restrictive eaters.)

While summer may not be the best time for consistently healthy, home-cooked meals -- the fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets are a real plus. So is all the exercise and activity that comes with the season. It's important to find out what your child enjoys. Remind them of the fun that can come from activity and play. I love the usual kid games of hopscotch, Hula Hoop, pickup basketball, bike riding and finding friends in the neighborhood. Experiencing exercise as a family -- swimming, hiking, golf or tennis -- gives children good role models. Over time exercise hopefully becomes a lifestyle for a lifetime.

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• Children's health is a continuing series. Dr. Lori Walsh is a pediatrician with Advocate Children's Hospital.

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