With Australia's Healthy Weight Week starting next Monday, it's an excellent time to talk about weight issues in children. This is a highly sensitive, and often poorly managed topic.
One of the major barriers is getting in early enough to manage excessive weight gain, before it starts to becomes a significant problem. The research shows that most parents (and in fact most doctors!) aren't able to tell if their child is overweight just by looking at them. This is probably because it's become quite normal to carry more weight as a child. The statistics tell us that almost 25% of Australian children are considered to be above their healthiest weight. This means that 7-8 children in every average Australian classroom are likely to be classed as overweight. No wonder people can't tell if their child is gaining excess weight- they look like all of their friends.
Now before I continue, I need to point out the difference between children who are naturally of a bigger build, and kids who are gaining too much weight for their size. If you've had your child regularly weighed over time, then you can use their growth charts to understand this. For naturally bigger children, their weight or height will have tracked along the higher percentiles on their growth chart since they were born. This might look like a growth chart below, where all of the measurements over time have been at about the 97th percentile (the red dots). If they don't deviate too much from the percentile they've been tracking along, then it's most likely that this child is growing well in accordance with their genetic potential. This is not likely to be a health issue.
On the other hand, children who are gradually moving up and across the percentile lines are more likely to be at risk of being or becoming overweight (the blue dots on the growth chart). An example might be if your child was born on the 25th percentile for weight, was at the 50th percentile for weight by the time they were 3 years old, and are now moving towards the 90th percentile. This suggests the child is deviating from their natural growth potential, and this family might need help to reverse the trend.
This is another reason as to why parents find it difficult to tell if their child is overweight- it creeps on reasonably slowly.
So, if it's hard for you to see a change in weight, what are the other signs that your child MIGHT be carrying too much weight:
wearing clothes that are sizes bigger than their age
short of breath or very red in the face with short amounts of physical activity
excessive sweating or chafing during activity
eating adult sized portions or more than you do
constantly asking for food
'sneaking food' (I hate this phrase but most people understand what I mean)
avoiding physical play or difficulty keeping up with peers
snoring at night
rolls or folds of skin around their middle
drinking soft drink every day
skipping meals, particularly breakfast
getting teased about their weight
look bigger than most of their classmates
Contrary to popular belief, we DO NOT want to put these children on diets. There is so much evidence to show that restricting a child's intake does a lot more harm than good. I'll talk more about this in future blog posts.
If you have questions about weight gain in childhood, fussy eating or childhood nutrition then email firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll do my best to address them in a blog post. In-home appointments are also available in Perth, Western Australia.