Chubby cheeks: Healthy or overweight?

Many parents are in denial about their child’s weight

As a mother of two girls who have very different body sizes, I noticed friends and family, even strangers, admiring my younger girl’s chubby cheeks and thick legs, while my first-born was often the subject of worrisome comments like, “Oh my, she’s so tiny.”

Aside from the comedic effect of “little” sis seeming bigger in comparison to her “big” sis, I was not amused by strangers commenting on my children’s body sizes. Although both of my kids are in the normal weight range, the fact that society seems to adore chubby kids was interesting to observe firsthand.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with adoring a child — but are we at risk of ignoring excess weight in kids when they fall outside the normal weight range? When does excess weight warrant a health concern instead of a compliment?

As parents, our job is to nurture our kids. Food is one of the ways we nurture, and what parent doesn’t love to see their kids clean their plates? However, studies show that the majority of parents don’t seem to be concerned when their child is overweight or obese.

Parents don’t see kids as overweight

One study found that almost all (97 percent) of the parents of kids who fell into the overweight category said they perceived their child as “about the right weight.” And as many as 78 percent of the parents of obese children said they perceived their child as “about the right weight.”

The problem with this lack of concern is that excess weight can lead to serious health risks such as heart disease, diabetes and depression. In fact, one in five children are obese, and Type II diabetes is on the rise among youth. If weight can be managed early on and healthy habits can be established in youth, these children can avoid a lifetime of managing chronic health conditions.

How do you know if your child is at a healthy weight? Determining their body mass index, or BMI, is a good way. BMI uses height, weight and age to calculate if the child is at a healthy weight, overweight or obese. Unlike adults’ BMI, children’s is calculated on a percentile scale compared with other children. Learn more about BMI and calculate your child’s here.

In addition to knowing your child’s BMI, parents should focus on establishing healthy eating habits for the whole family, including lots of fruits and vegetables, limiting sugary drinks and choosing activity instead of screen time. Encouraging at least an hour of physical activity each day is key. Regular well checkups are a must, too.

Answers to your questions

Concerned about your teen’s weight and need additional resources? Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness, in partnership with the YMCA, is hosting a series of weight management workshops called “Healthy Living Workshops: Growing a Happy, Healthy Family.” These workshops are for families with teens ages 13 to 18 and will explore goal-setting for healthy habits, healthy meal planning and preparation, fun ways to stay active, and tools to positively reduce stress. Sign up for this free series by calling (502) 629-7358.