Fat Kids & Teens - How to Grow Up Happy & Healthy

There is a huge amount of stigma associated with fat kids. Not only from a health point of view, but the current craze on skinny body shapes. And we all know that fat kids are usually bullied in school.

But who's at fault here? The kids, the parents, schools, the shops, the fast food joints, the government?

The argument that parents’ of overweight ch
ildren are somehow "bad" or neglectful in what they allow their children to eat and do is rather presumptuous - although presumably kids eat what their parents eat and may follow their lifestyle habits too.

Rather ironically, the UK CEO at Macdonald, Steve Easterbrook, blames the growing popularity of video games, which reduces the amount of time kids spend outdoors burning off energy.

Early introduction to sugary foods - often as treats due to its mood enhancing effects of an increase in blood sugar level - may well be responsible for kids developing a 'sweet tooth' - and dependence - or cravings and reduced control at least - on sweet or refined carbs as a means to 'feel better'.

And we all know the various debates around the nutritional value - or not! - of school dinners. Do fat kids eat more at school?

Last year, the Times published an article suggesting fat kids ‘should be taken from parents’ to curb obesity epidemic. It was argued that “parents who allowed their children to eat too much could be as guilty of neglect as those who did not feed their children at all.”

Of course, one assumes that this is in extreme cases. For example, the 15 year girl who at 33 stone was so obese she was told by doctors she might “drop dead at any minute”. Or the 3 year old who weighed 10 stone! It was indicated that here, it is parental behavior that leads to such childhood obesity.

While there are indeed long-term impacts on the health of fat kids, such as developing diabetes and heart disease, scaremongering and early dieting - regardless of who does it - can have deep psychological implications too.

Being continually told, warned or questioned about being 'too fat' can cause some children to eat in secret, develop eating disorders and lead to low self-esteem. Body hatred and dieting starting in childhood will do quite some damage.

Many children continue to struggle in their relationship with food and their body image into their teenage and adult lives. Due to the current wave of 'body beautiful' (not just women) - celebrities with waif like shapes and 'skinny' jeans - youngsters (not just teenagers) are starving themselves because they think they are fat and unattractive.

Here's a couple of examples to review ideal weight of kids:

A 14 year old adolescent boy who is 100 pounds and is 5 feet and 4 inches tall has a body mass index of 17.2, which is at the 18th percentile, and would indicate that you are at a healthy weight.

A 14 year old girl who is 140 pounds and is 5 feet tall has a body mass index of 27.4, which is at the 95th percentile, and would indicate that your child is at risk of becoming overweight.

Your child's ideal body weight would be at a BMI at the 85th percentile or below, and so would be about 119 pounds.


Please keep in mind that many factors go into determining if someone is 'healthy' and Body Mass Index charts can be misleading even on adults. It's just one tool. Talk to your GP if you have concerns about your weight or your child's weight.

The flip side is that drilling into kids about 'good' food and 'bad' food, just makes them crave the 'naughty' food - is this child psychology or just common sense!

But when does a kid who is deemed "a little chubby" become an "obese kid" who needs to watch their diet?

What is a "healthy weight" for kids?

Well, in my opinion, it's the wrong question. Many adults who are in good shape were 'chubby' as kids. And many 'fat kids' who were forced onto diets and exercise programs are now worse off than ever as adults.

A UK government plan a few years back weighed school children at ages of four and ten in order to map the spread of "childhood obesity." Primary school children were to be routinely weighed and their parents told if they are obese in a controversial initiative to tackle the worsening health crisis ( The Independent 21 May 2006 ).

What annoys so-called "fat kids" is the shame and blame tactic of most programmes and advice. Government, schools, parents, anyone … should be focusing on good nutrition and active play FOR ALL KIDS. Don't single out the fat kids. It's so glaringly obvious, yet the shame and blame tactic has been used for decades. It's destructive and can have the opposite of the effect intended. A half-way house is the new Change4Life approach - the 'How are the Kids' site is not a bad start to look at your children' daily eating and activities. Try the 5 minute quiz and get an action plan for fix those lifestyle habits that are not so healthy - one day at a time!!

Nowadays, it's hard for people to remain ignorant of the dangers of being overweight. The options open to help families to be more fit and healthy are huge and the support available is vast –books, free guides, food labeling, supermarket meal plans – you’d be hard pushed NOT to get the message about healthy eating.

When in a foreign country, I'm always keen to go to the supermarkets. It's so interesting what they put on the shelves can tell you so much about a country's cultural habits. In the US, everything is super-sized. I've never seen such enormously big bags or crisps, giant peanut butter jars, packets of cakes and chocolates etc. It's like being in Gullivers' Travels - the land of the giants! All the food in giant portions. Then in the next two aisles, you'll find constipation pills and weight loss potions.

Well, the UK is now officially the "fat capital of Europe" and, despite all the colorful labeling, our supermarkets are providing increasingly refined, processed and packaged 'convenience' food - even the fruit and veg are pre-cut (losing up to 80% of their goodness) and packaged, even pre-washed. Conversely, my husband and I were in Japan a couple of years ago, and in their shops and 'fast food' outlets, you'll find a lot of fresh vegetables, fresh fish, fresh meat on offer. You'll be hard pushed to find any kind of unhealthy or 'junk' snack foods.

It's not only fast food and a lack of daily activity that makes kids fat. Even the food in our supermarkets, including vegetables! is processed, packaged and many are stuffed full of sugar, fat, salt, preservatives - you eat what you buy. Of course - everything we eat has calories.

And parents should not restrict their children to low-fat diets. Fat has a vital role in normal growth and development. Many studies now show that youngsters burn considerably more fat than adults relative to the amount of energy they use. Women and girls use fat at a higher rate than men and boys of a similar age. Children have totally different energy needs for their growth and burn off a lot of energy just by growing.

It's tempting to make fat kids more active. But it doesn't always produce the intended result. A recent study from Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth, UK, presented at the European Congress on Obesity 2008, studied 300 children over five years.

The research claims that fat kids are less active because of their weight, rather than fat because they are less active. Overweight children find it harder to do sports and exercise because they run out of breath or have joint pains or injuries. This supports the argument for weight loss plans for fat kids that are initially focused on controlling calorie intake rather than promoting physical activity.

As a general tip, I'd simply encourage parents and their kids to just really start to think - when you eat a lot of fat, sugar and carbs, you will get fat (or fatter).

Introducing small amount of different colours and textures can make meals fun rather than being forced to "eat your greens" - they're good for you - start talking about WHY - and not just because "they make you big and strong"!

Link to your child's favurite cartoon or action character. One 'line' I used with my son (now a strapping 13 year old) was that brussell sprouts were "Buzz Lightyear food" - he always had one, then two, then three and now he quite likes sprouts! Give a choice: you can either have two or five! Great child pyschology :-) Orange key guide

I still hang on to the old-school diet of "everything in moderation" and "a little of what you fancy".

The trouble is when the 'little' becomes a regular 'lot'. It's about choosing the SOURCE of your daily dietary needs - carbs, fat, protein, water. And I must mention the importance of WATER - most kids and adults are chronically dehydrated and this seriously impairs brain function and all body functions. There is a specific food pyramid diagram for kids & teens that provides a really useful guide, it doesn't mention water in this one - sadly - watch out for what is slightly different to our own recommended proportions and portions of food types.

If you haven't picked up by now, I'm an avid believer that the more you know and understand about what happens in your body when you eat certain foods and do exercise and sports, the more choice you give yourself.

For children, teenagers and adults alike - that is extremely empowering!!! What kids need is clear, non-conflicting advice about food, diet and exercise. I hope the information on this website is written in such a way that you can let your kids lose on it too.

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