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Helping children stay in the healthy weight range

We know children need to grow and gain weight, but it's best if they stay within a certain weight range for their height and age. Sydney Local Health District's Early Childhood Dietitians, Kalliope Polyronis and Kate Holland, explain how to keep children in the healthy weight range.

Helping children stay in the healthy weight range

"Children who maintain a healthy weight tend to be healthier and often happier with a lower risk of health problems later in life."  Says Mrs Polyronis

"Teaching positive habits to your child from an early age points them in the right direction."

You can work out whether your child falls into the healthy weight category by measuring their weight and height, and having them plotted on a growth chart in their blue book. For children older than two years of age, their Body Mass Index (BMI) can be plotted on their child specific BMI growth chart. Your Child and Family Health Nurse or local doctor can do this for you.

You can also work out your child's BMI via this link: https://pro.healthykids.nsw.gov.au/calculator/

Another way to monitor your child's growth is to keep an eye on the way their clothes fit.  If they are two or more sizes above their age, for example, a four-year-old wearing a size seven, you may need to speak with a health professional, such as an early childhood dietician, child and family health nurse or your local doctor.

Tips to help your child stay in the healthy weight range

1.   Balanced nutrition

You probably feel like you've heard this all before but giving your child a variety of foods from all five food groups allows for balanced eating. When children eat fruit, vegetables, meat and alternatives like tofu, nuts, legumes, lentils and eggs, dairy, breads and cereals and a small amount of fats there isn't as much room for packaged snacks and refined sugars. Focus on what you feed them and make sure it is healthy.

2.   Limit screen time

As children grow older and go to school there is no doubt they will be exposed to more and more screen time in the form of computers, phones and other devices. If we start putting children in front of screens too early, it forms a habit. If children are in front of a screen they sit still more and spend less time running around outdoors.

Children under two should have no screen time at all. For children aged two to five, an hour a day is the recommended limit.

3.   Be active

Being physically active everyday not only helps achieve and maintain a healthy weight, it also helps to:

  • Build strong bones and muscles
  • Improve balance, movement and coordination skills
  • Promote social skills through play with other children
  • Support brain development
  • Encourage self-confidence and independence

"We are so lucky to live in a city that, for the most part, has great weather!" says Ms Holland.

Children love nothing more than to play at the park. If it's cold outside don't let that stop you from getting out with the family for fresh air, just be sure to dress for the weather.

When children play outside they eat better at meal times and sleep better. We know sleep and weight are linked so that is a good reason to ensure your child gets enough sleep!

4.   Be a positive role model

Children learn from their parents and carers. If you want your children to eat well, set a good example. If you help them form healthy eating habits early, they are more likely to stick with them for life.  For example:

  • Eat with your children with no distractions
  • Only offer water or milk, rather than soft drinks, cordials, sports drinks or fruit juice
  • Avoid using terms like 'good' or 'bad' foods. Instead, talk about 'healthy' and 'less healthy' food choices.
  • Talk about food as everyday food or things to eat only occasionally

Click here for tips on fuss free mealtimes.