Ask the experts

How can I tell if my child is a healthy weight for his/her age?

Dr. Dee Dawson is a leading expert in the field of child eating disorders.

Learn about anorexia, bulimia and obesity and the problems that can stem from these including self-harming and compulsive exercise. 

Dr. Dawson founded the first clinic dedicated solely to children with eating disorders, has more than 20 years of experience in the field, and is the founder of her own private practice. Dr. Dawson treats children suffering from anorexia, bulimia and obesity and the problems that can stem from these including self-harming and compulsive exercise. 

Q. How can I tell if my child is a healthy weight for his/her age?

Children can be 10% over or under an average weight for a child of their age and height and still be fit and healthy.

Doctors have charts, which show exactly where a child is on their weight to height graph. If you would like to work out what the normal weight range of your child should be, please do feel free to contact me direct . Give me the accurate height and age of your child and I will happily advise you on this.

BMI measurements should not be used to assess children; they are only valid for adults.

If you cannot see that your child is overweight i.e. they look very different from their friends, you have to buy clothes above their age, they find it difficult to join in strenuous games, then their weight is not anything you need to worry about. Many girls have a slightly higher percentage of body fat at or around puberty than children who are younger or older.  This usually goes naturally as they have a growth spurt at around this time and you should not worry about it unless the weight gain continues and is obviously more than just "puppy fat"!

It will be obvious to you if your child has a serious weight problem. If you are unsure or have any concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me direct and in absolute confidence via the above link.

Q. At what age should children start to take responsibility for their own weight?

Whether or not someone wants to take responsibility for their weight is usually not a question of age, more one of motivation. Many adults do not take responsibility for their own weight.

If you have an overweight child of any age, your help and encouragement will be invaluable in helping them to lose weight. Up to the age of around 12-14 it is certainly your responsibility to see that your child eats well and does not become overweight. After that age it becomes harder for you to monitor what they eat and you need some cooperation from them.

Q. How can I help my child to lose weight?

If your child is under 10-12 years old you can manage their weight without them realising they are on a diet.

From birth to puberty, children put on weight every year, in line with their growth.  It is quite normal for a child to gain 5-6kg i.e. about a stone, in a year. Unless you child is obese, it is probably enough just to keep their weight stable. They will grow taller and their extra weight will be distributed over her larger frame.

You should weigh your child; make it a game, think of an excuse for asking them to stand on the scales. There is a recommended range of calories needed by children of various ages.  For example a girl aged between 7-10 years old needs about 1700 calories a day. You can find the range on the Internet or feel free to contact me to for a consultation on your child, simply go to click request a call. Take the middle of the range for your child and see they eat that many calories a day. On school days, you can pack a lunch for your child or ask them what they ate at lunch and make an estimate using a calorie book of how many calories they ate. You then need to adjust your evening meal accordingly.

Don't stop your child eating the occasional chocolate bar or chips but ensure you include them religiously into their daily allowance. If you weigh your child again at the end of a week, you can see if you need to increase or decrease their calories in order to keep their weight stable or to lose a little if it is really necessary.

You will soon develop a pattern, i.e. your child is likely to eat roughly the same breakfast every day and you will know how many calories there are in the meals you prepare regularly.  Calories can be easily lowered by cutting down on the rice, bread and pasta components of your evening meal and by substituting fresh fruit for desserts.

A weight loss of ½ kg or 1lb a week is the ideal amount of weight to aim at. To achieve this, you need to cut your child's calorie intake by 500 calories a day. That is equivalent to a 100g bowl of muesli, or a large Mars bar.

It is vital to have a notebook so that you can write down exactly how many calories your child is eating.  If your child is cooperating with you, this will be a lot easier.

Don't weigh your child more than once a week.  Day-to-day fluctuations in weight can be disheartening.

Always praise your child when she loses weight and try to provide some little rewards.



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