Maintaining a healthy weight is important the whole way through life. We now know that overweight and obesity can lead to many long-term health problems on both a physical and metabolic level. These may include cardiovascular disease, several cancers, high blood pressure, respiratory issues, fertility issues, diabetes and psychological problems.
If your child is a healthy weight, there are lots of ways you can help them maintain this. You can help them develop healthy habits, and a healthy relationship with food. We should also encourage children to be physically active, and this combination will help to maintain a healthy weight.

Children who maintain a healthy weight are healthier, fitter, better able to learn, and have more self-confidence. They’re also less likely to develop health problems now and when they grow up. Diet, physical activity and weight in childhood have a lasting effect as children reach adulthood and older age.

Obesity in the UK is an increasing problem and burden on the health of the nation. The National Child Measurement Programme measures the height and weight of around one million school children in England every year. Their latest statistics (2017/18) showed that 20.1% of Year 6 children are obese. We also know that children are becoming overweight at a younger age: 9.5% of Reception children were obese in the 2017/18 school year.

From age five it is advisable for your child to be eating a healthy diet like the one recommended for adults. Parents are important role models. If children see their parents and other family members eating healthily and being active, they are much more likely to do the same.

If you are concerned about your child’s weight, contact your GP for advice. Weight loss is usually not advised while children are still growing. Instead, it is usually better that the child maintains their current weight while they continue to grow in height. This will depend on how overweight your child is, and other factors.

For more information on healthy weight and healthy living for the family, visit NHS choices

Unfortunately, an increasing number of teenagers in the UK are overweight. The Health Survey for England (2017) reported that 40% of those aged 13 – 15 are either overweight or obese. Overweight teens are at risk of being bullied, having low self-esteem, and are more likely to develop long-term health conditions. Examples include diabetes, cancer, heart problems, sleep problems and others.

Following a healthy, balanced diet, along with regular exercise is the best way for teenagers to maintain a healthy weight. You could help by offering lower-calorie options of many foods as well.

INAPPROPRIATE DIETING AND UNDERWEIGHT

Body dissatisfaction and concern about body image is common among teenagers, particularly girls, but this can affect boys too.

Many teenagers attempt to lose weight, sometimes in drastic or unhealthy ways. ‘Fad diets’ may seem attractive as they offer a ‘quick fix’ and claim to help us lose weight super fast. In reality, they are unsustainable, and in the majority of cases, we end up regaining the weight after returning to our normal diet, and possibly even more!

These diets usually advocate cutting out whole food groups, and by following this advice, we put ourselves at risk of having low intakes of certain important nutrients which our bodies need for growth and development, especially at this important time.

If you or your teenager would like advice on a healthy, balanced diet, visit the NHS choices website.

OVERWEIGHT

The Health Survey for England 2017 found that 67% of men and 62% of women were either overweight or obese. Specifically, 30% of women and 27% of men were classified as obese. By 2050, obesity is predicted to affect 60% of adult men, 50% of adult women, and 25% of children (Foresight 2007). Carrying extra weight increases the risk of a number of different health problems, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

While excess fat on anyone carries risks, many of the dangers associated with obesity are even more pronounced in people who tend to gain weight around the middle – the so-called ‘apple-shape’. Excess fat around the bottom, hips and thighs is usually regarded as less harmful to health. This might mean that someone has a smaller waist measurement, and an overall ‘pear-shape’.

While it can seem like a daunting task, regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet is the best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

BMI is the easiest and most common way of working our if someone is a healthy weight. It takes height in metres, and weight in kilos to work out if someone is a healthy weight or not. However this method has its flaws, as muscle is denser than fat. Often those who are very muscly will have a high BMI, but actually have a low level of body fat.

A better measure of excess fat for these individuals is waist circumference. Generally, men with a waist circumference of 94cm (37in) or more and women with a waist circumference of 80cm (about 31.5in) or more are more likely to develop obesity-related health problems.

Visit NHS choices for more detailed information about the causes, prevention, and risks of obesity.

UNDERWEIGHT

Our society and media spend a lot of time focusing on the risks of being overweight, but many people don’t realise that being underweight is unhealthy too.

Many people suffer from body image issues. Body dissatisfaction is not confined to women – many men feel pressure to have a specific body type too. Fad diets which promise quick fixes often involve cutting out whole food groups or several individual foods, making it very likely that the individual will be missing out on essential nutrients.

If you are concerned that you may be underweight, visit NHS choices.

PRE-PREGNANCY

If you are planning a pregnancy it is best to ensure you are a normal weight, fit and healthy. If you are overweight, the best way to protect both you and your baby’s health is to reach a healthy weight before you become pregnant. By doing so, you improve your chances of a natural conception and reduce the risk of the problems associated with being overweight in pregnancy.

If you want to lose weight before you become pregnant, ask your GP or a Registered Dietitian for advice.

PREGNANCY

The amount of weight gained during pregnancy is different for each woman. In most cases it depends on your pre-pregnancy weight, but the average weight gain is 8-12kg (17.5-30lb). Energy (calorie) needs do not increase until the last three months of pregnancy. So there is no need to ‘eat for two’. Gaining too much weight isn’t healthy and can increase blood pressure – but dieting while pregnant isn’t advisable either. Instead have healthy, balanced meals and snacks, and you could opt for lower-calorie options of many foods as well.

Pregnant women who are concerned about their weight should talk to their GP or midwife.

NEW MUMS

Weight loss after pregnancy will depend on how much was gained in the first place, but it’s advisable to take it slowly, with healthy eating and gentle exercise.

Breastfeeding can help some women get back to their pre-pregnancy weight. The energy (calorie) needs of breastfeeding are high – up to 500 calories a day depending on the stage of breastfeeding. Be guided by your appetite and don’t try to ‘diet’ whilst you are breastfeeding. Try to focus on eating a healthy balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids.

For more detailed information on a healthy diet during pregnancy, download our free publication Bump to Baby.

It is important to maintain a healthy weight as we age by eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of physical activity. This will ensure we remain in good health for longer, as well as keeping up our strength and agility.

OVERWEIGHT

Being overweight can affect joint health and mobility, and in turn, quality of life. It also increases the risk of developing conditions such as heart problems and type 2 diabetes, particularly if the excess weight is carried around the waist.

The amount of calories we need usually reduces as we get older. This is partly because we become less active. If our diets don’t change in line with these reduced energy needs, weight can easily creep up. Opting for lower-calorie options that are available for many foods and keeping active will help.

Although our energy needs decrease, we still need the same amount of nutrients to keep our bodies functioning correctly.

UNDERWEIGHT

Equally, being underweight isn’t good for our health. If we don’t eat enough to maintain a healthy weight, it’s likely that we will miss out on important nutrients needed to keep healthy and fit. Being underweight also increases the risk of osteoporosis.

Appetites often reduce as we get older but requirements for protein, vitamins and minerals remain largely the same, so it’s important to choose a diet filled with nutrient-rich foods to make sure we are getting what we need. This means focusing on foods from the four food groups and consuming foods high in fat or sugar less frequently as they provide lots of calories but very few nutrients.

Nutritious snacks can be an important part of the diet for older people too, particularly for those unable to cope with large meals at one sitting. Tinned, chilled and frozen ready-prepared meals can be useful for those who don’t feel like cooking, or find food preparation difficult because of conditions such as arthritis.

DENTAL HEALTH

Oral health also affects nutrient intake. Research shows that those who have few or no natural teeth eat a more restricted range of foods (for example, they are less likely to choose apples, raw carrots or nuts) and as a result have a poorer intake of vitamins and minerals. This highlights the importance of good dental habits throughout life in order to retain as many natural teeth as possible into older age.

Last reviewed: 03/2019
Next review due: 03/2021