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Children all grow and develop at different rates, and the most important thing is that they’re healthy and happy. Helping our children maintain a healthy weight – a weight that allows them to do all the things they want to do, like run about and play – is just one of the ways we look after them. On this page we’ll look at how you can tell if your child is a healthy weight, and what you can do if you have any concerns.

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How do I know if my child is a healthy weight?

Children are weighed regularly as babies, but as they grow up it's not always easy to tell if they’re a healthy weight. All children are weighed in P1, and will also have their height and weight checked by your health visitor.You can also try using the BMI calculator on the NHS website. But don’t forget that children all grow at different rates. 

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What can I do if my child is overweight or underweight?

Realising that your child may be overweight or underweight can stir up all kinds of emotions. You may be concerned about their health, or that they’ll be teased at school. Or you may be worried that addressing the issue may make them feel self-conscious about their body. You may also stress about having to make changes to their lifestyle that they may resist. But try not to worry – there are lots of little things you can easily slip into your daily routine that will make a big difference. Here are some tips for tackling the issue.

Tip #1: Don’t make a thing about it…

Rather than having a big, serious conversation about their weight, talk to them about making small changes that will help them grow, be healthy and do the things they want to do (like run about and play) rather than to control their weight.

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Tip #2: …But don’t be afraid to talk about it

Talking openly about weight rather than avoiding the topic helps build trust and can help prevent your child from feeling that weight is something to be secretive or ashamed about. If they have any worries, they’ll be more likely to come to you, and you can address their concerns together. Our page on talking to your child about shape, size and weight has lots of tips to help get the conversation started.

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Tip #3: Talk positively about food and physical activity

Help your child understand that eating a range of foods and being active are normal and enjoyable, not chores we need to do to control our weight.

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Tip #4: Lead by example

Try to make sure your child sees you eating a range of foods and being active yourself – most of the time! Avoid letting them think about different foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and talk instead about how all foods are good in moderation, but some we need to have more often than others. You could replace ‘good’ and ‘bad’ with ‘always’ and ‘sometimes’.

You can find lots of tips for healthy living on the NHS Inform and NHS Healthier Family websites.

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Tip #5: Make changes as a family

Mum and daughter outside in a park, both smiling and laughing

It’s important not to single your child out in any way, for example, by giving them different food or getting them to exercise alone. Making changes as a whole family can feel easier and be fun! You can find lots of tips for healthy living on the NHS Inform and NHS Healthier Family websites.

Our section on planning meals and cooking has lots of tips and information for eating healthily on a budget.

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Tip #6: Help them feel good about themselves

Everyone should feel comfortable in their own skin. Our page on helping your child to have a good body image has lots of tips to help young children feel more confident, inside and out.

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Tip #7: Encourage them to listen to their bodies

It might sound strange, but learning how to ‘tune in’ to our bodies can help us choose to do the things that really make us feel good, rather than the things that we think we should do to feel good. So for example:

  • Encourage them to think about how they feel – are they hot or cold? Tired or fizzing with energy?
  • You could talk to them about makes them feel good. Maybe it’s running, or dancing, playing football or walking in the fresh air.
  • Instead of making sure they leave a clean plate at dinner, let them stop eating when they’re full.
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A parent's story

“We’ve always been quite big in our family – no one would look at us and think for a minute we’d have really skinny kids, so I guess we just didn’t really notice when our middle child, Aisha, started to put on weight in primary school.

“When I got this letter [from the school] telling me she was very overweight it was a real shock and, to be honest, I was really upset. I already thought I was doing all I could, making sure they all had some veg at dinner and didn’t stay on the computer all night and all that. I wasn’t going to start being so strict that I made their lives miserable. Also, I suppose because I’ve struggled with my own weight all my life, I didn’t really believe that anything I could do would make a difference – so it was better not to risk making her self-conscious about it.

“So to start with I wasn’t going to do anything different after getting the letter… It was my partner who snapped me out if it, saying ‘why don’t we just all try getting healthy as a family?’

“I was determined that we wouldn’t do anything drastic, and I absolutely didn’t want to single Aisha out and make her feel different from the other kids. But doing things together felt alright. Not everything has worked, but some things have, like having different fruit for snacks after school instead of biscuits, and I get the kids to help me find healthy recipes online to try for dinner. We’ve also started going for walks together at the weekend – the kids aren’t always keen to leave their screens and if it’s cold, neither am I! But we all usually enjoy it once we get outside, especially if I distract them with a game.

“Aisha’s 13 now, and I can’t be in charge of what she eats or does every minute of the day, so we’re just trying to do our best with talking about healthy eating and being active at home so at least she understands what the choices are. Actually, in her new school she buys her own lunch, and normally chooses something quite healthy – so maybe it is working!”

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Where can I get help and advice?

If you have concerns about your child’s eating, their activity levels or their weight, your GP or school nurse should be able to offer guidance and support. If there’s a possible problem with your child's diet, your GP can give advice on what will help, or refer your child to a dietitian if necessary.

You can find out more about children’s weight on the NHS website.

If you’re worried that your child may have an eating disorder, BEAT offers information and support. Our page on eating disorders has more info and advice.

If you’re looking for support in your area, your local health board can offer: 

  • advice on healthy eating, keeping active and other health habits
  • specialist support around children’s weight.

Select your local health board from the dropdown list below to find out how to get in touch.

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This article is based on research carried out at the University of Bath. You can find out more about this research here.

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