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In our body-conscious culture, it's only natural to wonder about your child's weight. Determining exactly what a child should weigh is tricky, though, because every child is different. During babyhood and puberty, kids grow rapidly and weight fluctuates. Through the elementary years, growth may slow. De-emphasize appearance and weight, and focus instead on teaching your child healthy patterns of eating and exercise. With this approach, your child will naturally gain the weight ideal for him.
Body Mass Index
At your child's annual doctor's visit, your pediatrician measures and weighs your child and lets you know where she falls in relation to other children. These percentages are interesting and can alert you to extremes in growth, such as a child who's very large or very small for her age. They don't do much, though, to educate you about your child's ideal weight.
A more accurate tool for gauging healthy weight, says Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family care physician in Pittsburgh and the author of Teach Resilience: Raising Kids Who Can Launch, is to find out your child's body mass index (BMI). A BMI is a reliable indicator of body fat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It works as a screening tool to help identify a child who's underweight or overweight. Your pediatrician or school nurse can identify your child's BMI, or you can measure it yourself using an online tool.
When determining how much your child should weigh, think about your family's genetics. If most of your family members are tall and stocky, chances are your child will follow suit. Petite, small-boned parents usually produce smaller children. Of course, there's an exception to every rule, and you may have one child who takes after your husband, a 250-pound ex-football player, while another child takes after your great grandfather, who never topped 6 feet and weighed 150 pounds his whole adult life.
In most cases, adopting a healthy lifestyle ensures that your child weighs the right amount for her bone structure and age. Ditch the soda and sweetened drinks, advises Gilboa—they're the No. 1 cause of unhealthy weight gain in both kids and adults. Limit fruit juice and chocolate milk to no more than 8 ounces per day, and offer unflavored milk or water instead. Eat breakfast every day, and add more fruits and vegetables to your child's diet.
Most importantly, says Gilboa, eat dinner as a family. "Fill the plates in the kitchen and make sure each plate contains the following ratios: one-half vegetables, one-quarter protein and one-quarter whole grains. No seconds until all the veggies are gone!"
Don't obsess over how much your child should weigh. If you worry that your child may be overweight, encourage more exercise rather than a diet. "Every child needs at least one hour each day of strenuous exercise," notes Gilboa. "Limit non-homework screen time to no more than two hours per day."
Sign your child up for an after-school sport, such as gymnastics, soccer or lacrosse. Make a habit of going for a family walk after dinner or playing active games, such as hide-and-seek and tag. You might have to get more creative in the dead of winter. Visit indoor play areas or head to an indoor swimming pool a few times each week.
If your family maintains a healthy diet and active lifestyle and you're still concerned about your child's weight, check in with your pediatrician. Sometimes weight loss or weight gain can indicate serious health problems. Your doctor can rule out illness and help you custom design a plan for your child.