Everything You Need to Know About Weight Loss for Kids and Teens

How do you help children and teenagers lose weight? Get your whole family on board with these tips on lifestyle changes that benefit everyone.
Published August 5, 2019

The obesity crisis is real, and our children are not immune: According to the National Center for Health Statistics, obesity rates among children and teens have tripled in the United States since 1974. Right now, almost 20 percent of children ages 6 to 11 and 18 percent of teens (ages 12 to 19) are overweight or obese.This puts them at increased risk of developing health problems later in life, especially if their family has a history of heart disease and/or diabetes. And studies suggest that overweight or obese adolescents are more likely to carry those weight issues into adulthood.

Parents, doctors and policy makers agree that it’s time to act. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, children aged 6 years and older with a BMI at or above the 95th percentile should get help with their weight (to find your child’s BMI, use this calculator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Weight management recommendations for children and adolescents include behavior and lifestyle changes that support healthy eating and plenty of activity, to help them grow and develop normally. (The goal for babies and kids under 6 shouldn’t be weight loss. Instead, the focus for these very young children should be on maintaining their weight as they grow taller, which naturally improves BMI.) To be clear, there is no quick fix for overweight kids, and extreme dieting can wreak havoc with growing bodies. So children older than 6 should aim to stabilize their weight initially, then gradually shift their eating and exercise habits to lose weight slowly, and always in consultation with a family doctor. 

It takes commitment from both parents and children to win at weight loss, but an evidence-based behavior change program can help. Look for a total-picture approach that uses techniques including goal-setting, tracking food and activity, and problem-solving with the help of a supportive health coach.

These common-sense, research-proven ideas will get your family started:

5 Weight Loss Tips For Teens and Children

  1. Make the healthy choice the easy choice by putting fresh fruits and vegetables out on your kitchen counter or at the front of your fridge, washed and ready to eat.

  2. Do the opposite with sweets, candy, cookies, chips and sugary drinks (including soda, juice, and sports drinks).  Keep those out of sight, or better yet, out of the house. You don’t need to ban these foods and drinks entirely--just teach kids to save them for special occasions.

  3. Encourage fun activities that help children get exercise. Sports are great, but so is bike riding, hiking, backyard games, skating or anything else that gets kids moving (and parents, too!).

  4. Schedule regular times for meals and snacks.  This cuts down on grab-and-go eating and will help to bring your family together around the table more often.

  5. Involve everyone in a new eating plan, not just the child who is overweight, because it’s good for your whole family to build healthy habits that will last a lifetime.