Ask the Dietitian: My Child is Overweight, Should I Feed Him Differently?

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on January 7, 2010

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Q: I have two boys who eat great but they have completely different bodies types (one small for his age and the other more hefty.) The younger, more hefty boy has a sweet tooth and I have concerns about his weight. Do I continue to feed them the same way?

A: Yes. Continue to feed your boys the same way. To explain why this is my answer, let’s consider what would happen if you fed them differently.

If you started singling out your heavier child, he might get the idea you don’t approve of his body size (even though that’s not your intention) and this could negatively affect his self esteem. Additionally, seeing his brother eat different foods – and allowed to have seconds – could make him preoccupied with foods and eat more when he gets the chance. Research shows that restricting food intake in the overweight child is counterproductive.

Another problem with giving your thinner child more leeway when it comes to eating is that he won’t learn the healthy habits he’ll need as he gets older. Healthy feeding strategies help all children grow into weights that are right for them. Some kids will be bigger and others will be smaller and many will be somewhere in between. What you want to avoid is the unnecessary weight gain that comes from overeating and a lack of activity.

Some relevant posts on feeding strategies include, Why Children Thrive on Planned Meals and Snacks, 5 Times You Never Want to Feed Your Kids and the Book Review, Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming.

In addition to feeding you’ll also want to provide your boys with plenty of opportunities for physical activity. Limiting screen time to 2 hours or less per day and only allow sugar-sweetened beverages (fruit drinks, soda etc.) on special occasions.

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The information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not take the place of medical advice. Please verify with your healthcare provider.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

TwinToddlersDad January 8, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Overall I agree with your recommendation. Switching to a healthier menu with more fruits and veggies and cutting down on snacks will also help. Another trick would be to offer less in the first serving and give seconds only if they ask for more (without passing judgment of course or making any comments). Yet another idea would be to feed them at separate times if possible.

Your suggestion about physical activity is right on the mark. Even if one child is “hefty”, if he is running around and spending enough time playing outdoors, his “sweet tooth” should not be a concern.

Only if the trend of “overweight” on the growth chart continues, specific actions may be needed. But until then, it is better to treat both the kids the same way.

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