Overweight children -- your best tips/websites?

My scary-smart, warm-hearted, stubborn-as-two-mules son is 11 and has gone from stocky to pudgy to shouting distance of obese over the years, particularly the last couple. His activity level has declined, partly (IMO) due to teasing and nasty comments he got in second and third grade from other boys and the sports teacher. He was in an emotionally battered state at the end of third grade, from which he has generally healed, but his self-confidence rests on a shakier foundation than I would like.

I want to help him get into normal weight and fitness parameters, but I’m terrified of drumming a message of ‘There’s something wrong with you’ and ‘You aren’t good enough’ into his head such that as an adult, he’ll always be a ‘fat kid,’ even if his weight is perfectly fine.

With memories of my own teen years still far too vivid, I really want to put some healthy habits into place before he 1) gets slammed by vicious peer pressure and 2) tunes me out completely.

Help! Can anyone point me to a website designed for children that presents good information about nutrition and fitness presented in an entertaining and interesting manner? I figure that if he encounters the information for himself, he’ll take it in more thoroughly than if he gets it from me, which makes it automatically suspect. Also, any advice for dealing with the situation in general? I know the basics – eat right, move more, limit screen time – but I’m open to hearing it all again, especially practical tips that have worked for others.


Probably first see a doctor to rule out disorders that might be causing it. This also would lend credibility to your cause—the doctor can help reinforce the health side, i.e., “We love you, son, but there are health problems associated with this and we want you to live a long healthy life.”

Obviously there have been a zillion weight-loss plans over the years. IMO they’re useless unless you can execute them outside the home. E.g. all the low carb Atkins stuff isn’t going to work if he has a carb-loaded school lunch. The best plan I’ve found is Weight Watchers and I think they’d welcome him at that age, but check their site.

As for exercise: the trick should be to make it not seem like exercise. I used to run my ass off playing racketball because it was fun…put me on the track and tell me to run my ass off in circles, no dice.

There again, ask your doctor. He probably needs some low impact activities to spare his joints till he sheds some of the weight.

Good luck!

ETA: Go for lasting change, of course. It isn’t just about losing weight—it’s keeping it off and developing the healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

One thing I wish had been different in my house: more vegetables. Mom’s idea was to boil the can of corn till it’s dead. Try fresh vegetables, by themselves and in salads…I didn’t discover veggies till I finally made it to a Chinese restaurant and mmm boy.

Fruits, too, can satisfy a sweet tooth without all the extra sugar, but read labels as some are in heavy syrup. Try lower cal alternatives like cool whip free.

I used to teach horseback riding to an 11 yo boy who hated most team sports and kinda on the plump side. His parents were very concerned about his weight and stubbornness on the team sports thing. So point 1: Have you thought about private lessons/individual sports? I think people automatically think sports=team sports. His parents told me that he positively dreaded soccer, but really looked forward to riding, which was a nice compliment. (contrary to popular opinion, horseback riding is actually excellent physical exercise). Some people would rather learn away from their peers… let’s face it, a lot of their peers are right bastards.

Eventually, he got his Boy Scout badge in horsebackriding, which is a fairly tough badge. Bringing me to Pt 2: I really think it’s important to have a long term goal - like, run in a 5k, climb the tallest mountain in my state, or something like that, to work towards. A “why” if you will, for your “what.”

Ultimately, he’s not going to do something out of obligation or necessity, but rather because he actually enjoys it. Rather than telling him how important exercise is, maybe you could brainstorm some activities that he would like to try. Skateboarding? cross-country Skiing? Fencing? Geocaching? Ultimate frisbee?

I second the suggestions that physical activity has to be presented as something fun to do. There are a ton of games from our childhoods that would give him plenty of physical exercise, and he could also try individual sports or a labor intensive hobby as well to get the exercise he needs. If you have any time at all, make sure that you participate with him in these physical activities; if you show no enthusiasm for being physically active and having fun while doing it, he may never enjoy doing any physical activity that’ll give him enough exercise for the day. Even going for a good walk once a day with him while chatting about the school day or planned future activities would be a good start. Do you have a dog that needs walking? Here’s a good opportunity to make that daily walk a habit by assigning it to him as a responsibility.

Also, the vegetable content of his diet might need some tweaking, and fresh veggies definitely go over better than overcooked ones. He may not like a lot of the more bitter ones now, but he may come to appreciate them more when he’s older and his palate has adapted to it. As for meals, portion sizes and proportions of food groups should probably be watched, as he may be eating way too much of one thing and not so much of another and it’s probably not helping his metabolism in addition to the lessening exercise.

I haven’t met your kid, watched him eat, or charted his physical activity for an average day, so these are just general suggestions that may or may not work well for your son. If you were to do only one of these things as an “improvement”, I’d recommend getting him into a more active lifestyle, as this is going to have a significant impact on his development to ramp up his metabolism with extra activity during the day.

The number one cause of childhood obesity (I’ve heard) is soda. That would be a good thing to wean him off. Fruit juices aren’t much better. There’s so much sugar, still, and usually little pulp to help satisfy. The best substitute would be water.

Also, avoid the “beige” diet. A healthy diet has a lot of colors in it—green, red, orange, etc. from fruits and veggies. Potatoes, white bread, cooked meat, and many poor nutrition choices do not. Too bad that isn’t a universal law b/c then I’d just put sprinkles on everything :smack:

Most importantly, he has to be on board with the plan. You can ace every meal at home but if he’s eating whatever at school, it won’t work.

The emotional component will probably need to be addressed. It’s easy for adults, let alone kids, to think, ‘Oh what does it matter? I’ll always be fat. Might as well enjoy this candy bar…’ And for many, eating=comfort, so you get this vicious cycle.

I’d also be prepared to put your family on a “diet.” You can’t eat ice cream while he has none, for instance. But do celebrate every pound he loses and remind him that problems don’t happen overnight, so their solutions won’t either.

I wonder if it would be worthwhile to find a camp for him. I’m just thinking that these issues may be very difficult for you to address—but if he’s in a camp with others who have the same weight issue, he might open up to peers and work on the emotional component.

Also, I hope this isn’t out of line, but FWIW: in my case, I think my mom really wanted an “eating buddy.” If (for instance) you don’t want the kid eating so much candy, you can nip that by not buying it in the first place. At his age, you control the purse strings. If possible, I’d send him to school with a sack lunch because A) school lunches aren’t nutritious, from what I’ve seen, and B) the money may be going toward a bag of chips and a soda instead of a balanced meal.

I agree with this. It’s just cruel otherwise.

I’m not so sure about this. Actually, I was rather under the impression that with children, that “reducing diets”/“losing weight” was not the appropriate goal but rather “stabilize weight” so that, as the child grows, the weight is appropriate. This is something to discuss with your doctor – to establish the right expectation for what “success” would mean in this undertaking.

I’m also not so sure that “celebrating every lost pound” is really a healthy dynamic in a family. I mean, improving eating and health is a big acheivment, but focusing so much on the scale, makes the whole thing a little wrongly directed in my mind. Like I said, I would shoot for a long term physical goal, and celebrate the steps undertaken to achieve that goal. On this topic - rewards should be NON-FOOD rewards.

I also think that “fat camp” is a horrible idea (talk about stigma if anyone were EVER to find out) not to mention it smacks of ghettoizing the socially unacceptable, to me. However, I think that “camp” is a tremendous idea, especially something very physically intensive. A 2 week canoing camp, or hiking camp with tent camping, or horse riding camp, or “adventure” camp, etc. From personal experience, getting fit is practically unavoidable at these intensive experience camps, and you don’t even notice it happening, because you’re like “white water rafting is awesome!” Focus on the fun!

Another solitary sport to consider is rock climbing. Many locations have indoor rock gyms that offer lessons for kids.

Play to his fantasies. (No not those ones…) Every guy that age has something they wish they can be when they grow up. Those dreams change as time goes on, but in the meantime it’ll help build confidence, give him a “cool factor”, and a chance to dream.

My memory of the pudgy kids that lost weight because of these dreams:

A guitar or other “rock star” instrument. Lessons help, but he’ll get bored or frustrated with the wrong teacher, so be prepared to switch teachers if he wants to give up. Lots of room to dance around with the guitar, and those pounds sweat off pretty quick. Buy good earplugs. :slight_smile: Actually, you don’t need to, an electric guitar with a cheap “personal amp” plugs in and plays through headphones, and works plenty well enough for a beginner.

Skateboard: If you live in a skateboard-friendly area (lots of pavement, lenient cops), just a couple tricks might be enough to keep him going, especially if he has a decent board. Buy pads, “cool” skaters don’t wear them, but the best ones don’t skate without them. Takes the fear out of falling. Similar idea with roller blades/BMX bikes. If you have a decent sized yard and he takes to it, building a half-pipe is sure to win friends, too. Free skate parks nearby help, too.

Whatever sport he likes, if it’s available. Check his video games/tv/magazine favorites, there’s probably something there. Something where weight is an advantage for younger beginners, especially if he’s physically strong.

Weightlifting: At his age you don’t want too much weight, he probably can’t lift too much anyway, but a bare bar and a couple light dumbbells can play to the Conan ego. Repetition is the key at this age. A little extra muscle can burn calories day and night.

You get the idea, individual “sports” to start with, allowing him a chance to work at something with a friend or mentor, until he’s confident enough to run with it on his own, join a group/team, or morph it into something else. Maybe watch the guys a little older than him, figure out what they like to do, and put something together. He’s probably a little jealous of someone, feed that jealousy…

Fat camp might mess with his confidence, unless he’s eager for it, and any forced sports, especially with large teams can be a little traumatic. At the same time, he’s probably going to resist anything you offer, but push a little and see if he gives in, maybe offer him a deal, try it for a short length of time, and if it’s not fun, next idea. Remember how slow time passes as a kid though, months are forever. A couple weeks, a handful of lessons, etc., should be enough to gauge his interest. Just make sure it’s his idea to continue, not your own missed childhood dreams.

Diets at this age aren’t going to go over too well, he needs to change his activity, restricting calories runs the risk of reducing nutrition, and he’s at exactly the wrong age for that. Even a healthy workload of chores might be someplace to start. But playing to his dreams is probably the best way to go, and might make you a pretty cool parent, which is something valuable in itself.

Mostly, don’t make it about the weight. Nobody likes diet and exercise, but we all have things we wish our parents would have let us try our hand at as kids. So does he. Good luck!

“Regular” camps can be a lot of fun for kids, so this might be a good idea. Also, social groups often also do the “adventure” thing every now and then; I did camping and canoeing with both my girl scout troop and a church youth group when I was younger in addition to having done horseback riding camp and a general youth camp.

(Also @ Hello) Yeah, my only concern would be that a regular camp might put out big time food, thinking, ‘These kids are burning so much energy every day…let’s have everything with gravy and butter!’ But, if he balks at a weightloss camp, it’s at least a step in the right direction. And if he’s already not participating in sports because of his weight—maybe because he can’t, due to his weight—he’s going to be stuck in a camp where he can’t join in, will be an outcast again, etc.

Another bit about this: the OP’s choice of the word “obese” triggers major red flags for me. If you check a BMI chart, dayum, most Americans are overweight and obese. One unfortunate side effect is that we subtly start thinking that’s ‘normal.’ Maybe by statistical norms for the US it’s ‘normal’ but according to the weight the body is supposed to carry, it isn’t. So the OP’s appraisal of being within shouting distance…that may mean he’s already over the line. Besides, there’s bound to be a lot of wiggle room in that calculation for kids. FWIW:


If the boy keeps heading that direction, more drastic measures may be required. At what point do you push the panic button (“fat” camp) and at what point do you try a less drastic approach (“regular” camp)? I’d defer to a doctor on that question…just putting the option out there for consideration.

@Hello: It’s going to depend on the kid of course. Some will respond well to celebrating every pound and I’d say “2 lbs this week…that’s 15 overall! You’re on your way, kid!” But, whatever floats the kid’s boat and motivates him. I like the idea of showing the kid that he has control; YMMV.

He’s still young enough that he might imitate you. It probably won’t solve the problem, but if you start exercising too, you might encourage him and will at least avoid discouraging him by being seen around the house not exercising.

Yep. I think my first choice would be to try to get him interested in exercise by doing something together. How about the C25K program? I thought of it immediately since I started it this morning. :slight_smile:

Exactly what I was thinking. I don’t want to come off as some C25K running lunatic, but it’s the best thing I have done for my health ever and I imagine it would be a great program for a parent and child to complete together. You also see results in your ability to run very early, so it’s a great motivator.

Yeah. Boy howdy, do I wish that my middle-school gym class had put us through C25K instead of just dumping our asses on the track and telling us to run a mile twice a semester. Tons of people, like me, might have actually… felt good about themselves… and been able to run and to enjoy it.

It’s totally something that would be great to do with a kid.

An 11 year old boy has no way of getting his own food, even at school (you have to give him money for that.) I know schools these days make it difficult by putting Taco Bell and Pizza Hut and stuff in the cafeteria, but I’m guessing that’s more expensive than the school lunch so I would find out how much the school lunch is and only give him that much or just pack him a lunch and don’t give him lunch money. Start reading labels if you don’t already; don’t buy anything with any trans fat in it, avoid large doses of saturated fat (though some is good for you), watch sugar intake - note that damn near everything has sugar in it these days and a lot of juices have more than soda - what he’s drinking is just as important as what he’s eating and those calories need to be counted in his total intake for the day. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables - apples, oranges, pears, bananas, peaches, etc all make great snacks and are way better than candy bars or Doritos or any other pre-packaged snacks. Watermelon is an awesome dessert - just cut a big hunk, stick a spoon in it, and go to town. If he likes oatmeal, get him on oatmeal for breakfast. If not, give him eggs (no more than 2), cottage cheese, a piece of toast. A granola bar, a banana, and a yogurt is a breakfast I really like too but be aware of the sugar content of the granola bar and yogurt.

I already mentioned this but I cannot stress enough how important it is to read the labels on everything you buy. I’ve only recently started to realize that not everybody does this. The FDA requires companies to put these great standardized nutritional labels on almost all food packaging and some people are just blissfully oblivious of it - I can’t believe that. Some foods you’ve heard are “just loaded with sugar” really don’t have all that much (ketchup) and some stuff you’ve always heard is good for kids is really just sugar water (most fruit juices. Eat your fruits, don’t drink them.) So you’ve got to start reading labels and discovering all of this for yourself. Don’t go off of what someone tells you.

Consider giving him green or black tea in the morning and early afternoon to get him energized from the caffeine content. If he’s already drinking Coke anyway this is actually going to be less caffeine and you can make it with very little or no sugar. Also eliminate his caffeine after school hours, though - he needs to be getting a good night’s sleep. If your son doesn’t already drink caffeine ignore this whole paragraph. No reason to get him started now.

You’ve got to get him moving somehow. You say limit screen time which tells me he spends a lot of time in front of the tv or computer (?) That’s a tough one to deal with. I would hope he doesn’t have either one in his bedroom - if he does it’d be pretty hard to remove it without making him feel like he was in trouble. What part of the country do you live in? Here there are little mountains everywhere that you could take a kid to and they’re not too tough but he would feel a great sense of accomplishment on reaching the top and would most likely want to do it again. Is there something like that where you live? Does he have a bike?

I agree with whoever said take him to a doctor to make sure he doesn’t have any kind of disorder. Don’t make a big deal about it - just tell him it’s time for his checkup which is not a lie at all. It is time he gets a check up.

And lastly, be a good role model. Are you overweight? Do you eat right? Do you exercise? Do you spend too much time in front of the screen? Monkey see, monkey do is never more true than with children. Good luck and report back to us with what you’re trying and how it’s working.


I’d go easy on watermelon due to the glycemic index of 80 (Australia, without seeds). It’s up there with corn pops, white bread, ice cream, and jelly beans.


In contrast,
Apple, US: 40
Ripe yellow banana, US: 51

Also, OP, I’d be careful overall that this isn’t approached as “punishment” or anything. Keep the most positive spin on it that you can.

I wouldn’t. No one is getting fat from eating fresh fruit. It’s hydrating, and it’s got micronutrients that processed foods with similar gyclemic indexes don’t have. You’re sending the message that, “oh, I was going to have watermelon for dessert but it’s up there with ice cream and jelly beans on some scale I’ve never heard of so I’ll just have those instead.” Bad message.

Anything and everything in moderation, of course, but the higher the glycemic index, the greater the insulin response. If it satisfies you for hours, that’s great, but these foods dump their sugar and they’re gone…hence their high number.

I don’t know if your comment about a scale you’ve never heard of is a sarcasm or serious.

People who diet successfully—all of them?—find “go to” foods to satisfy cravings etc. I was reacting to cutting off a big hunk and going to town as such. Fruits may work for that, but the continuing satisfaction (i.e. relief from hunger) is at issue. If you’re choosing a fruit to have regularly, most others would be better.

Almost none of this applies when you take into account that I recommended watermelon as a dessert. Note that I said apples, oranges, bananas, pears, etc for snacks. And my comment about a scale [I’ve] never heard of was from the perspective of someone who is just now learning about nutrition, hence the quotation marks indicating it was not me saying it.

I’m not saying eat half a watermelon every night but would it be better than eating a bag of chips or a bowl of ice cream every night? Hell yes. Glycemic Index is not the be-all, end-all of nutrition. Compare the fat and calorie contents, sodium contents, micronutrient contents, etc. Look at the whole picture. You say watermelon is “approaching jelly beans” on the GI scale but jelly beans are almost pure sugar. You’re not taking into account the offsetting benefits of watermelon:

Find me a jelly bean that does that.

Glycemic load is morre accurate, which takes into account the actual amount of carb in the food. Watermelon has such a low amount of carbs, it ranks low on the glycemic load list. Which means, you’d have to eat a huge amount to see a large insulin spike.


Notice- watermelon (listed as item 443) has a high glycemic index, but a glycemic load of 4- quite low.

Also- with overweight kids who are still young (like 11) the goal is frequently to stabilize their weight and let normal growth bring them to the right weight/height. So, drastic measures aren’t always needed as in losing weight- just normal healthy eating and exercise to slow additional weight gain.

As always, talk to your doc.