Can I Put My 8 yr. Old Son On A Diet?

February 12th, 2013 posted by Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD, FAAP

Dear Dr. Gwenn,

I have an eight year old son who is 51″ high and 85lbs. He is hungry all the time and I worry about his food choices. As a baby he suffered from reflux and a feeding disorder that made him sensitive to certain textures in his mouth. Most of the textures that he dislikes, even now, are in the fruits and vegetable family. Therefore, he eats more carbs and meats rather than a balanced diet. My question is, how can I ensure that he is getting enough vitamins from foods without forcing him to eat foods that he dislikes and secondly, is he too young to put him on a diet to lose weight? Signed, Kellie

Dear Kellie:

In many ways, your son is like all the other 8 year olds in our country in terms of food choice. Unfortunately, his weight is becoming too generous for his height and age. He is at the 75 percentile for height and above the 95 percentile for weight. There are a number of issues. First, he has growth on his side and is tall for his age. So, if you can increase his activity and help him make healthy choices, he will be able to get to a more appropriate weight over time. Second, he is not too young to be put on a diet but not the type of diet you are thinking. Kids respond better to choice than restriction. Start by explaining to him that a body is like a car and needs the right fuel to run. I often will joke to kids this age and ask how far they think their parent’s car will get if filled with mud. Find a few fruits and veggies that he will eat and offer them with meals and for snacks. Many kids do well with dipping in fat free ranch dressing with veggie sticks. Allow him the foods he enjoys but in moderation and once a day. Substitute 100 calorie packs for regular chips and cookies. If you typically have desert with dinner, have it tied into eating healthy during the day and have it be a low cal food such as Jell-o or pudding. Also be sure your son is drinking enough water. Many kids this age confuse hunger with thirst. Talk to your pediatrician and see about a referral to a nutritionist who can help you work with your son. This has to be a team effort for the entire family to be successful. Finally, my bias has always been that it is ok for kids to know they have a weight problem. You can explain it similar to any other problem such as strep throat. Don’t place blame just tell him that sometimes bodies hang on to weight and that tells us we need to eat and move differently and that’s what is happening to him. This will allow him to look forward and not back. Best, Dr. Gwenn © 2005 – 2007 Pediatrics Now. All rights reserved. PEDIATRICS NOW™ is a trademark of Pediatrics Now

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Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD, FAAP (36 Posts)

Pediatrician, Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Gwenn is an experienced columnist, educator, and practicing pediatrician. Dr. Gwenn strives to write as if she were talking to a parent. As a parent herself, she knows how important it is to obtain information but also understand how precious little time parents have to find that information on the internet. Pediatrics Now was developed to fill that gap and provide a bridge between the parenting and pediatrics worlds.

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