Weight-Loss Recommendations for Children
Current recommendations for weight loss in children have two goals: to ensure that the child grows and develops normally and to help the child reach a healthy weight.
Weight-loss recommendations for children are different from those for adults. Unlike adults, children need calories for growth and development, in addition to the calories that their body requires for daily metabolism and physical activity. Children who eat too little may not have enough calories to grow in height. For this reason, a child's calories should not be cut too much and weight-loss recommendations for children are quite modest.
Current recommendations for weight loss in children have two goals. The first is to ensure that the child grows and develops normally and the second is to help the child reach a healthy weight. Experts in the field of pediatric weight management have developed broad treatment recommendations with these two goals in mind.
When To Maintain Weight
Maintaining weight allows children to "grow into" a healthy weight as they get taller. Children who are encouraged to develop healthy eating and activity patterns without "dieting" can stop excess weight gain and maintain their weight while growing taller. Compared to adults, children are more successful at using healthy eating and regular activity to keep weight in the healthy range long term.1
Weight maintenance strategies can be used with children as young as three years of age.2 One approach suggests limiting weight gain in overweight young children to less than 2 pounds for every inch of growth.3 As children get older, over 4 years of age, the recommended strategy might be to maintain weight as the child grows and until the child's Body Mass Index (BMI) drops down into the normal range, that is, below the 85th percentile.3 The recommendations are similar for children older than 7 years of age — children who are "at risk of overweight" should maintain and grow into their weight.2
When To Lose Weight
Weight loss is rarely recommended for children under 7 years of age. It may be appropriate only if the child's BMI falls in the overweight range and the child has a weight-related medical condition like high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol.2 Any weight-loss regimen provided to a child should be designed specifically for children and have a track record of lasting results. Adult-based weight-loss programs are not appropriate for most children.
In most instances, a child's weight loss should be limited to an average of 1 pound per month. This allows the child to continue growing taller and building muscle.3 Children can be successful at losing weight gradually, a goal that rewards parents and children with a sense of accomplishment. In addition, the type of healthy eating that promotes slow weight loss is easy to sustain over time.3
This content is reviewed regularly. Last updated December 17, 2011.
Other Science Library Topics
1 Epstein LH, Valoski AM, Kalarchian MA, McCurley J. Do children lose and maintain weight easier than adults: a comparison of child and parent weight changes from six months to ten years. Obes Res. 1995;3:411-7.
2 Barlow, S and Dietz, W. Obesity Evaluation and Treatment: Expert Committee Recommendations. Pediatrics. 1998; 102(3).
3 Daniels SR, Arnett DK, Eckel RH, Gidding SS, Hayman LL, Kumanyika S, Robinson TN, Scott BJ, St Jeor S, Williams CL. Overweight in children and adolescents: pathophysiology, consequences, prevention, and treatment. Circulation. 2005;111:1999-2012.