The Basics: Overview
Help your child – and your whole family – eat healthy and stay physically active. The healthy habits your child learns now can last a lifetime.
What can I do to help my child stay at a healthy weight?
Help your child stay at a healthy weight by balancing what your child eats with physical activity. Two of the best ways to help your child stay at a healthy weight are to:
- Help your child and family eat healthier foods
- Be more physically active as a family
You are a role model.
Parents are often the most important role models for children. When you choose to eat right and be physically active, your child will be more likely to make those choices, too.
Plus, being active and preparing healthy meals together are great ways to spend quality time with your family.
Share these websites with your kids.
These kid-friendly websites can help children learn about healthy habits.
The Basics: Health Effects
Why do I need to worry about my child’s weight?
Being overweight or having obesity can lead to serious problems, like:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Sleep problems
- Low self-esteem
- Getting bullied
- Heart disease
Being overweight as a child increases the risk of being overweight or having obesity as an adolescent and young adult. In other words, many kids don’t “grow out of” being overweight.
Today, about 7 in 10 adults – and about 1 in 3 children – are overweight or have obesity.
The Basics: Measuring BMI
How do I know if my child is at a healthy weight?
Finding out your child’s body mass index (BMI) is one way to learn if he or she is at a healthy weight.
Children grow at different rates, so it’s not always easy to tell if your child is at a healthy weight. Healthy weight is also defined differently for children and teens than it is for adults.
Ask your child’s doctor or nurse whether your child is at a healthy weight. You can also use this BMI calculator for children and teens if you know your child’s height and weight.
What if my child is overweight or has obesity?
Successful weight management programs for kids include counseling and education about eating a healthy diet and being physically active. Parents have an important role to play in these programs, too.
Talk to your child’s doctor or nurse for more information.
Take Action: See a Doctor
Help your child make healthy choices and learn healthy habits.
Ask the doctor to screen your child for obesity.
Your child’s doctor or nurse can calculate your child's BMI (body mass index) and say if your child is at a healthy weight. If your child is overweight or has obesity, ask the doctor or nurse to help you find a weight-loss program for your child.
Look for a weight management program that includes counseling to help kids:
- Make healthy choices about food
- Get more physical activity
What about cost?
Obesity screening and counseling are covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, your child may be able to get these services at no cost to you.
Check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about other services for children that are covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.
Take Action: Physical Activity
Make sure your child gets at least 60 minutes (1 hour) of physical activity every day.
Fun and simple activities, like playing tag, are great ways for kids to get moving. And it doesn’t have to be 60 minutes all at once – it can be shorter activities that add up to 1 hour a day.
Be sure your child is doing different types of activity, including:
- Aerobic activities, like running, skipping, or dancing
- Muscle-strengthening activities, like climbing playground equipment or trees
- Bone-strengthening activities, like jumping rope or playing basketball
Make getting active a family project.
- Let children choose family activities.
- Try walking the dog or biking to the library together.
- Post a family activity calendar on your refrigerator.
- Find a park to explore near your home.
Take Action: Screen Time
Keep screen time to 2 hours or less a day for kids age 2 and older. Screen time is time spent using computers or smart phones, watching TV, or playing video games.
- Set clear rules about when and for how long your child can use the computer or smart phone, watch TV, and play video games.
- Keep the TV out of your child’s room.
- Use this screen time log [PDF - 144 KB] to track how much time your family is spending in front of a screen.
- Get more tips to limit screen time.
Take Action: Healthy Meals
You can be a role model for your child by eating healthy. Plus, a healthy diet can help protect you from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Shop, cook, and plan for healthy meals.
Buy and serve more vegetables, fruits, and whole grain foods. Here are some tips and ideas:
- Make a shopping list with healthy foods [PDF - 107 KB].
- Read the Nutrition Facts label on packages to help you make healthy choices.
- Let your child pick out healthy foods to try.
- Give children age 2 and older water or fat-free or low-fat milk instead of soda or juice. Children under age 2 can drink whole milk.
- Get tips on how to lower the fat and sugar in family meals and snacks.
- Help your child build healthy mealtime habits. For example, let him stop eating when he's full instead of when the plate is clean.
Get more tips for smart food shopping. If you need help buying food, ask your child’s doctor about a program called WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) – a government program that can help you get healthy food for yourself and your child. Use this tool to see if you might qualify for WIC.
Sit at the table and eat together as a family.
Plan healthy, affordable meals and enjoy them as a family. When families eat together, children eat more vegetables and fruits and fewer foods with added sugars. Let children help pick out healthy foods, prepare meals, and set the table.
Take Action: Breakfast and Snacks
Start the day with a good breakfast.
Skipping breakfast can make kids hungry and tired, and it may lead them to snack on foods high in added sugars later in the day. Give your kids whole-grain cereal with fat-free or low-fat milk and fruit instead of sugary cereal.
Make healthy snacks.
Healthy snacks give kids important nutrients and help control hunger between meals.
Take Action: Sleep
Make sure your child gets enough sleep.
If kids don’t get enough sleep, they are at higher risk of being overweight or having obesity.
- Teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night.
- School-aged children need 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night.
- Preschoolers need to sleep between 10 and 13 hours each day (including naps).
- Toddlers need to sleep between 11 and 14 hours a day (including naps).
- Babies need between 12 and 16 hours of sleep each day (including naps).
Set a bedtime schedule and remind your child when it’s time to get ready for bed. Consider keeping electronic devices – like TVs, computers, and smart phones – out of the bedroom. Get more tips on healthy sleep habits.
Content last updated February 6, 2020
This information on childhood obesity is adapted from materials from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; the Office of the Surgeon General; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention