From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

As a parent, you want your children to be healthy. You do your best to feed them nutritious foods and hope that they are getting enough physical activity. Lately, though, there's been so much news about children in Canada being overweight and obese that you may be wondering whether your child fits into that category.

But how can you tell? It's not always easy. A recent study by researchers in England found that as many as three quarters of parents surveyed saw their children as normal weight, even though they were actually overweight. And statistics show that as children become obese, their risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and other problems goes up. Certainly, images in the media and on television may be making it more difficult for parents to see what a healthy weight is and what isn't, says Dr. Brian McCrindle, an expert in childhood obesity and Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher. This can make it difficult for parents to know when to make changes in their child's activity and eating habits.

Take stock
If you have noticed that your child is growing larger around the middle and other areas of the body faster than he or she is growing taller, then you may want to discuss this fact with your family doctor or pediatrician. Your doctor can access Child Growth Standard charts and inform you if your child is at a healthy weight, overweight or obese.

All children need to eat nutritious foods and require 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity a day. But how can you make those changes? Here are some tips:


  • Do an inventory of your pantry and fridge. Do they contain high-calorie, low nutrient foods such as chips, cookies, candies, chocolates, ice cream, cakes, muffins, high-fat lunch meats such as salami and pepperoni, and frozen pizzas? Turn it around: Make your own pizzas by buying ready-made, whole-wheat crusts, jars of pizza sauce and sliced toppings such as green peppers, mushrooms, onions and lean meats such as ground chicken or turkey.
  • Do you find that dinners consist of fast food such as burgers and fried chicken one or more times per week? Turn it around: buy a roasted chicken or toss a few lean burgers on the grill.
  • Do you give your child lunch money instead of packing a homemade lunch? Turn it around: buy whole-wheat pitas and tortilla wraps and stuff them with yummy tuna or egg salad.
  • Do you or your children often skip breakfast? Turn it around: start slowly by eating a yogurt or a banana and then move on to cold, whole-grain cereals, whole-wheat bagel and peanut butter, whole-grain waffles and hot cereals such as oatmeal or cream of wheat.
  • Does your family rarely eat vegetables? Turn it around: start with veggies you love. Carrots? Cucumbers? Salads? And then slowly introduce beets, broccoli and green beans and other veggies.
  • Do meats, high-fat cheeses and refined grains (white rice and white bread) take up most of the room on your child's plate than vegetables and whole grains? Turn it around: make protein choices smaller and fill the two-thirds of the plate with whole wheat spaghetti or brown rice and cut-up veggies such as celery and carrots.


  • Does your child spend more than an hour a day watching TV or playing video or computer games? Turn it around: for every hour they watch TV, have them play outside tobogganing or playing baseball for the same amount of time.
  • Does your child get less than 60 minutes a day of physical activity? Turn it around: sign up for classes – ballet or swimming – or join soccer or baseball teams.

Encourage your doctor to track your child's weight and height over the next couple of years and to tell you if your child is at or is approaching an unhealthy weight. “The physicians are focused on health - yes- but the parents have to take some responsibility on their own and educate themselves,” notes Dr. McCrindle.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation Connection
The Heart and Stroke Foundation is funding Dr. Brian McCrindle's research on rehabilitation of children with congenital heart defects. He is comparing two different rehabilitation programs in children who have undergone the Fontan procedure, an operation to alter blood circulation to compensate for a heart with only one ventricle. He is also author of Get a Healthy Weight for your Child.

Last reviewed November 2006.

Heart and Stroke Foundation


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