Healthy weight in children and youth

Young boy girl and father running outside

As a parent or guardian, you want your children to be the healthiest they can be. Helping your children be physically active and eat nutritious food are foremost in your mind. But you may be concerned about reports of children being overweight and obese.

Even though overweight children may seem well-fed, they could be undernourished. One Canadian study found that even though obese children were eating a high-calorie diet, they weren't getting enough calcium, magnesium, vitamins D and E.

Studies show that children who are obese over a period of time, or who become obese in later childhood or adolescence, are more likely to remain obese as adults. Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

If your child is eating too many unhealthy foods such as doughnuts, potato chips, French fries, pop and candy, and getting too little physical activity, you may be concerned about his or her weight. Speak to your healthcare provider for help.

Inactivity also adds to weight problems. Children and youth need to be physically active 60 to 90 minutes a day, most days of the week, to stay healthy.

What you can do

Healthy habits, including regular physical activity and healthy eating that begin at home at a young age and continue throughout life, are important to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Between the ages of 6 and 12, children learn to make decisions and begin to make more choices of their own. They are developing eating habits and attitudes they may carry with them for the rest of their lives. Peer pressure influences children and youth of all ages and is particularly strong in the early teen years.

In the meantime, you, as a parent, play an important role in helping your children stay healthy. 

  • Encourage your children to eat three well-balanced meals a day at regular times. Fill half their plate with vegetables and fruit, a quarter of their plate with whole grains and a quarter with protein foods. 
  • Offer them water and lower-fat milk (1% or 2%) instead of pop and other sugary drinks.
  • Serve fresh fruit, veggie sticks and lower-fat yogurt after school and on the weekends instead of high-fat, high-calorie snack foods such as potato chips and doughnuts
  • Encourage free outdoor play (A pick-up game of baseball? Tobogganing?) while limiting their screen time in front of computers, video games and TV.
  • Help children get pleasure out of being active by encouraging them to choose activities they love – is it dancing, basketball, hockey, soccer, swimming, rollerblading, biking, or jumping rope?
  • Read about children's physical activity needs.
  • Schedule family outings that are active such as hiking a provincial park trail or swimming at the local community centre pool.
  • Get your kids cooking – they usually like to eat what they have fun making.
  • Eat together as a family as often as possible
  • Set a good example yourself by eating healthfully and being physically active on a regular basis.
Related information

For heart-healthy recipes for your children, go to Kid-Friendly Meals 

Read the Heart and Stroke Foundation position statements on:

Schools and Physical Activity (PDF)

Schools and Nutrition (PDF)