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Overweight and obesity in young children

Childhood is an optimal time to establish healthy habits. The number of children who are overweight is increasing in Queensland. Health workers are encouraged to provide parents with information on healthy weight, eating and physical activity for optimal child growth and development.

Healthy weight for children

Recording growth

The growth of children is measured and plotted on growth charts. The World Health Organisation (WHO) growth charts are used for children less than two years of age. Encourage parents to regularly check and record their child’s weight and height on the growth charts. Discuss with parents that children do not grow at a steady rate, but fluctuate between periods of rapid and slow growth.

When interpreting growth charts, the pattern of growth is more important than a one-off measure. Growth should therefore be monitored regularly and plotted on a growth chart. Growth should follow a percentile line on the chart. If growth is flat or crosses percentiles rapidly, parents should be encouraged to seek further assistance.

Healthy weight

Children carrying extra weight are at risk of short and long term health conditions:

  • Constipation
  • Asthma, sleep apnoea, disordered breathing
  • Low self-esteem and depression
  • Type 2 diabetes in childhood
  • Obesity, diabetes and heart disease later in life.

Establishing healthy habits early in life provides an opportunity for children to learn healthy lifestyle behaviours and reduce their risk of obesity and health risks in adulthood. Health professionals are in an ideal position to ask about and provide healthy lifestyle information or refer parents to a health professional (e.g. a dietitian) for assistance with healthy weight for healthy growth and development.

Healthy eating for children

Children need plenty of nutritious foods to grow and develop. Parents should be encouraged to provide their children with a wide variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups each day. From 12 months, children can be eating healthy family foods with the rest of the family. This is a time for parents and carers to role model healthy eating behaviours.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend these serving sizes and amounts for children less than two years:

  • 2 to 3 serves of vegetables or legumes/beans of different types and colours
    • 1 serve is equal to ½ cup cooked vegetables or legumes, 1 cup of salad, or ½ potato
  • ½ serve of fruit
    • ½ serve is equal to ½ medium or 1 small pieces of fruit
  • 4 serves of grain foods, mostly wholegrain or high fibre varieties
    • 1 serve is equal to 1 slice of bread, ½ cup cooked rice or pasta, or 2/3 cup of cereal
  • 1 serve from lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts/seeds or legumes/beans
    • 1 serve is equal to 65g cooked meat, poultry or fish, 1 cup cooked legumes or 2 eggs.
  • 1 to 1 ½ serves of dairy foods, including milk, yoghurt, cheese or dairy alternatives (e.g. soy)
    • 1 serve is equal to 1 cup of milk, 1 tub of yoghurt, or 2 slices of cheese.
  • Breastmilk and drinking plenty of water is a good habit to start at a young age.

How much children eat can vary from day to day, depending on growth and activity levels. Children know when they are full and forcing them to keep eating can develop unhealthy eating habits. Discourage force feeding and provide parents and carers with information on fussy eating if needed. Children do not need other foods that are high in saturated fat, added salt and added sugars.

Physical activity for children

Being physically active every day is an important part of child growth and development. Playing and exploring helps children develop physical and social skills.

  • Parents of children aged one to five should be encouraged to allow their child to be physically active for at least three hours each day, spread throughout the day.
  • Inactive or sedentary time should be minimised in children.

Encourage parents to avoid screen time (watching television or using other electronic devices) for children less than two years of age.

More information

National guidelines

Last updated: 26 July 2019

Resources for parents, families and carers

Professional development