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Healthy Weight Basics

"A child’s health and well-being is fostered by a home environment with engaged and skillful parenting that models, values, and encourages sensible eating habits and a physically active lifestyle."

— From the Institute of Medicine's report Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance (2005)

As parents and caregivers, you make a big difference in what your children—and the children you care for—think and do. You are role models for your family. Eating right and being physically active can help you maintain a healthy weight. When your children see you making these choices, there’s a good chance that they will do the same.

What is your goal as a parent or caregiver, when it comes to helping your family maintain a healthy weight? It’s to promote "energy balance" in your family's life.
What is “energy balance”?

Energy is another word for "calories." What you eat and drink is ENERGY IN. What you burn through physical activity is ENERGY OUT. Energy balance is the balance between ENERGY IN and ENERGY OUT; this balance is needed in order to maintain a healthy weight. Other factors that affect a person's weight include metabolism (the way your body converts food and oxygen into energy), genes, and the environment.

Changes in our environment that make it harder to engage in healthy behavior have a lot to do with our overall increase in weight over the past few decades. For example:

  • We're an in-the-car and sit-behind-a-desk society. For many of us—parents and children alike—daily life doesn't involve a lot of physical activity. If we want to be active, we have to make an effort.
  • Food is everywhere, along with messages telling us to eat and drink. We can get something to eat in places where it was never available before—like the gas station. Going out to eat or buying carryout is easy.
  • Food portions at restaurants and at home are bigger than they used to be. To learn how these larger portions impact the calories or energy you consume, visit the Portion Distortion page.

Becoming overweight doesn't happen overnight. It happens over time when the energy we take in by eating is not in balance with the energy we burn from physical activity. However, there are things we can do to prevent overweight and obesity. Visit the Energy Balance section to learn more. 

To find out if you are at a healthy weight, check out your ratio of weight to height (known as the body mass index or BMI).

Last Updated: May 8, 2012

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