Beyond Calories: How to Help an Overweight Child

  • author name Lori Good, RN
Girl smiling at mom

The obesity epidemic is not just an adult problem. One-third of all children between the ages of 2 and 19 are overweight or obese. Because of this, they are developing health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes - as well as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety -- that used to affect only adults.

Here are some ways you can help.

Support Your Child’s Emotional Needs

So often, eating is about more than being hungry. It's a way to socialize, celebrate an event, or uphold an important cultural tradition. For many adolescents, eating is a way to deal with difficult feelings. Research has found a link between emotional problems and overweight children.

Loneliness, depression, anxiety, peer problems, and psychosocial disorders are commonly seen in clinics that treat overweight or obese children and adolescents. As a nurse working with overweight children, many shared their feelings with me about why they eat. They fill in the blanks with answers such as:

  • I am lonely.
  • My mom and dad argue too much.
  • Other kids make fun of me.
  • I am afraid of __ (relative, neighbor, older family friend)

The list goes on and on.

From our schools to the White House, people are working to control this epidemic among our children, and help parents too. Regardless of their income, education, or culture, parents experience a range of emotions—from helplessness at trying to “fix” the problem, and concern over their child's health, to frustration at being their child's food police.

How You Can Help Your Child Maintain a Healthy Weight

The goal for overweight and obese children and teens is to reduce their rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Children and teens should not be placed on a weight reduction diet without the consultation of a healthcare provider.

To help your child maintain a healthy weight, balance the calories your child consumes from foods and beverages with the calories your child uses through physical activity and normal growth.

13 Practical Tips to Help Your Children and Family Develop Healthy Eating Habits:

  • Provide plenty of vegetables and fruits.
  • Encourage whole-grain products, such as brown rice, wheat pasta, whole-wheat bread, whole-grain cereals.
  • Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products.
  • Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein.
  • Serve reasonably sized portions.
  • Encourage your family to drink lots of water.
  • Eliminate sweetened beverages such as soda and sport drinks.
  • Limit consumption of sugar, especially from juice and snacks.
  • Cut back on fat—visible (mayonnaise, butter, salad dressing, rich sauces) and invisible (fats in baked goods).
  • Establish eating-out rules for the whole family.
  • Limit fried foods, such as chicken nuggets, onion rings, and fries (Tip: If it’s crunchy, it’s fried).
  • Allow no extra meat or cheese toppings on pizza.
  • Limit cream sauces, cheese sauces/gravies/desserts.
author name

Lori Good, RN

Lori Good, RN, is a registered nurse with Lancaster General Health Community Health and Wellness.

Education: Good holds an associate’s degree in nursing and a bachelor’s degree in communications/journalism from Shippensburg University. Her areas of expertise include healthy weight management for children, adults and families, heart health, and group and individual health coaching. She enjoys creating healthy, affordable recipes that are simple to make.

Call: 717-544-3283

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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