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Healthy weight and keeping active

There are many reasons that maintaining a healthy weight and staying active increases a child’s overall health and wellbeing. It helps with all of the following areas.

Physical health: Being at a healthy weight and staying active reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. Carrying excess weight can strain the musculoskeletal system, leading to joint pain, arthritis, and orthopaedic problems later in life. It can also increase susceptibility to infections.

Development: Physical activity supports healthy growth and development of muscles, bones, and organs in children, contributing to overall physical wellbeing.

Mental health: Regular exercise releases endorphins, promoting positive mental health and reducing the risk of depression and anxiety in children. Being an unhealthy weight is often associated with low self-esteem, body image issues, and increased risk of depression and anxiety, impacting overall psychological wellbeing. 

Educational performance: Physical activity has been linked to improved cognitive function, concentration, and academic performance in children, enhancing learning and memory.

Social skills: Participating in physical activities and sports encourages teamwork, communication, and cooperation, developing good social skills and friendships.

Long-term habits: Instilling healthy habits early in life increases the likelihood of maintaining them into adulthood, leading to a lifetime of better health outcomes.

Quality of life: Being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight enhances overall quality of life by increasing energy levels, improving sleep quality, and reducing the risk of injury.

Helping an overweight child requires a holistic approach focusing on healthy eating habits, physical activity, and positive lifestyle changes. Think about: 

Providing a balanced diet: Encourage them to eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Limit intake of processed foods, sugary snacks, and drinks high in calories and added sugars. 

Portion control: help your child understand about appropriate portion sizes and mindful eating habits to prevent overeating. Avoid using food as a reward or comfort mechanism. 

Family meals: Establish regular family meals to promote healthy eating habits and model balanced food choices. Involve your child in meal planning and preparation to increase their engagement and interest in nutritious foods. 

Limit screen time: Minimise sedentary activities such as watching TV, playing online games, or using electronic devices, encourage outdoor play and physical activities instead. 

Encourage physical activity: Aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. Find activities your child likes such as sports, dancing, swimming, or cycling to promote regular exercise. 

Be supportive: Offer positive reinforcement and encouragement rather than criticism or shaming. Focus on praising effort and progress.

Healthy role modelling: Set a positive example by adopting healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle as a family. Children often copy the behaviours of adults, so being a healthy role model is important. 

Create a supportive environment: Foster a supportive environment at home that promotes health and well-being. Encourage open communication about nutrition, body image, and self-esteem. 

Address any underlying factors: Identify and address any underlying factors contributing to your child's weight gain, such as emotional eating, stress, or a medical condition. 

Seek help and guidance from your school nurse or GP if you need support.

Helpful resources

You can find more advice on the NHS website

NHS Better Health: Your child’s weight

Easy ways to eat well and move more

Fussy eating in children is a common phase that many children go through.

To manage fussy eating and help foster healthier eating habits in the long term try to:

  • Offer a variety of nutritious options
  • Introduce new food items alongside familiar ones
  • Avoid pressuring or forcing children to eat
  • Set a consistent meal routine
  • Create a positive mealtime environment
  • Involve children in meal preparation
  • Be patient as they gradually expand their palate

Helpful resources

Please visit our fussy eating page for further information and downloadable booklet

Information on the NHS website on fussy eating

A step by step guide to trying new foods from Dorset Healthcare

Try to:

  • Offer & encourage a balanced diet rich in proteins, healthy fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Offer regular meals and snacks throughout the day to provide consistent energy and nutrient intake. Encourage your child to eat small, frequent meals if they have a small appetite.
  • Offer foods such as nut butters, avocados, cheese, whole milk, dried fruits, and healthy oils into meals and snacks to boost calorie intake without increasing portion sizes drastically.
  • Minimise “empty-calorie” foods and drinks such as sugary snacks, drinks and processed foods, they provide little nutritional value and can fill up a child without contributing to healthy weight gain.
  • Encourage regular physical activity to promote appetite, muscle development, and overall well-being.
  • Create a positive mealtime environment free from stress and pressure. Encourage relaxed, enjoyable family meals where your child can explore new foods and develop healthy eating habits.
  • Monitor your child’s emotional health stress, anxiety, or emotional issues can affect a child's appetite and eating habits, leading to weight loss. Seek help if you are concerned.

If a child is consistently underweight despite efforts to improve their diet nutrition and lifestyle, consult a GP to rule out any medical issues as sometimes underlying medical conditions such as gastrointestinal disorders, thyroid problems, or genetic factors can contribute to a child being underweight.

Helpful resources

Underweight children aged 2 to 5 - NHS - NHS

How to help your child gain weight - NHS

Encouraging children to be active is so important for their physical & emotional health, children need to be active for at least 60 minutes every day. Here are our four top tips:

Lead by example: Be physically active yourself and involve children in your activities.

Make it fun: Incorporate games, challenges, and play to keep them engaged.

Set limits on screen time: Encourage physical play instead of sedentary activities like watching TV or playing video games.

Involve the whole family: Make physical activities a family affair to promote bonding and create a supportive environment for staying active. 

Here are some ideas for free activities you can try:

  • Outdoor games: play tag, or hide and seek in a nearby park or playground.
  • Fitness challenges: set up fitness challenges like jumping jacks, push-ups, or squats and see how many repetitions children can complete within a certain time frame.
  • Nature walks: explore local parks, trails or nature reserves. Encourage them to observe plants, animals, and natural features along the way.
  • DIY obstacle courses: create obstacle courses using household items like chairs, boxes, balls, cones, ropes, and hoops.
  • Playground workouts: visit local playgrounds where children can climb, swing, slide, and engage in imaginative play while getting exercise.
  • Dance parties: have a dance party at home where kids can move to their favourite music and let loose.
  • Balloon volleyball: blow up balloons and play volleyball indoors or outdoors using hands as makeshift paddles.
  • Yoga for kids: follow along with on line kid-friendly yoga sessions or lead simple yoga poses like downward dog, tree pose, and child's pose to promote flexibility and mindfulness.

Helpful resources

Healthier Families - NHS information

Children, Young People & Families Programme - Sport in Mind