Maintaining a Healthy Size in Childhood
Children grow and develop at their own rate. It is best to monitor your child’s growth over time rather than compare your child to other children. This can be done by attending regular well-child visits with the child’s primary medical provider. Your child’s provider should graph your child’s growth for you. You may also get your child’s height and weight checked at the WIC clinic.
A child who plots at the highest ends of the growth chart or climbs the chart faster than expected based on height, weight, and age may be considered at increased risk for having high levels of body fat, which we will refer to here as having a bigger body.
Children may develop bigger bodies if:
• They regularly consume food and drinks that are high is sugar and saturated fats, such as baked goods, candies, fried foods, sugar-sweetened beverages such as Kool-Aid or soda, or higher fat dairy products beyond age 2.
• They consume a diet low in vegetables.
• They continue to use bottles beyond age 1.
• They have increased screen time (TV, tablets, video games) of more than 2 hours per day.
• They do not have daily physical activity. Physical activity in children refers to activity burst where they are moving their entire body, such as going for a walk, riding a bike, or playing at a park.
• They live in a household with adults who also have bigger bodies.
In early childhood, having a bigger body may present with few complications. However, if left unchecked and body fat levels continue to increase at a higher-than-expected rate, the child will become at increased risk for developing multiple complications in later childhood and adulthood, including:
• Cardiovascular complications such as heart disease
• Metabolic complications such as type 2 diabetes
• Sleep related issues such as sleep apnea
• Mobility concerns such bone and joint pain
• Breathing issues such as asthma
In addition, children with bigger bodies are more likely to become adults with bigger bodies. However, there are many things you can do to lessen your child’s risk of developing complications from having a bigger body and to help them grow into their body size:
• Offer foods and drinks made from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
• Limit your child’s intake of processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages.
• Limit screen time and encourage daily physical activity.
• Be a good role model. Children who observe their adults making healthy food choices and engaging in regular physical activity are more likely to do the same.
• Serve child-sized portions. Children need less food than adults. Refer to My Plate Planner for more information on the child portion sizes.
• Follow the division of responsibility. The adult decides when, where and what food is served. The child decides how much and if they are going to eat.
For additional information, resources, and ideas on ways to incorporate fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and physical activity into your child’s life, speak with a WIC nutritionist. If you have concerns about your child’s growth or rate of growth, speak with your child’s healthcare provider.