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My eight-year-old is overweight. What can I do?

The question

My eight-year-old is overweight. I don't want to make him self-conscious about it, but I do want to make sure he's healthy. What can I do?

The answer

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By definition, overweight means that when we measure a child's body mass index (BMI), it would be for his age, between the 85th and 95th percentiles. If it exceeds the 95th percentile then we use the term obese.

To see an example of normal growth charts click here.

The BMI is simply a number we use as a measure of a child's growth over time. It is calculated by dividing the weight (kg) by the height (metres). That number is divided by the child's height (metres).

Some families find it easier to calculate the BMI electronically.

A good place to start is to see if the BMI continues to climb higher and higher over a 6 month period. If that is the pattern, then clearly it should not continue - intervention is required in order to prevent him from getting into issues such as high blood pressure, high lipid levels in the blood, elevated insulin, liver and kidney damage, breathing issues and joint problems ( to name a few of the more common outcomes of untreated obesity.)

In order to address the issue, it's important to know the most common causes of being overweight:

  • Food portions being too large
  • Skipping breakfast
  • Ingesting too many calories in the form of sugars and unhealthy fats, eating for emotional reasons (boredom or stress for example),
  • Eating too quickly or eating fast food too often
  • Drinking too much juice or other drinks high in sugar
  • Not eating 5-10 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily

For more ideas, see Healthy Kids and click on the nutrition button under parent resources. Or buy a popular book on this topic such as the Sierras Weight Loss Solution for Teens and Kids.

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Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at pediatrician@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.

Click here to see Q&As from all of our health experts.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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