Is It Just Puppy Fat Or Is My Child Obese?

When Do I Start Worrying About My Kids Puppy Fat?

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“Advertisements Sometimes, a concern raised by the family doctor or the inability of the child to perform activities that are otherwise easily performed by children in the same age group rings a bell. However, in most cases, parents shrug off excess weight as “puppy fat”. Not taking …”

Several adults today are battling obesity and struggling to find ways to lose that extra flab. But the problem extends to children as well. And although we often dismiss obesity in children as mere “puppy fat,” studies today suggest that you should be concerned if your child seems overweight.

“Puppy Fat” May Not Be As Harmless As You Think

While some children lose their “chubbiness” or body fat as they grow older, the same does not hold true for others. In fact, this loss of fat could be attributed to the child’s genetics which affects appetite, satiety (the sense of fullness), metabolism, food cravings, body-fat distribution, and the tendency to use eating as a way to cope with stress, all of which determine whether the child grows up to be obese or not. Besides this, the child’s activity level and eating habits can also play a role in how the child stores fat.[ref]Why people become overweight. Harvard Health Publishing.[/ref]


Indicators Of Obesity May Appear In Childhood

Keeping the fact that not all children lose their “puppy fat,” it’s important to note that studies have shown that indicators of obesity start appearing early on. People who are overweight as children are more likely to be overweight teenagers and subsequently more likely to be overweight adults. The longer the fat remains as your child gets closer to adolescence, the tougher it gets to shed the fat.[ref]Nader, Philip R., Marion O’Brien, Renate Houts, Robert Bradley, Jay Belsky, Robert Crosnoe, Sarah Friedman, Zuguo Mei, and Elizabeth J. Susman. “Identifying risk for obesity in early childhood.” Pediatrics 118, no. 3 (2006): e594-e601.[/ref] And obesity itself comes with a whole list of complications, including a significantly increased risk of later cardio-metabolic morbidity (diabetes, hypertension, ischaemic heart disease, and stroke) in adult life. Obesity in childhood and adolescence, meanwhile, is associated with a significantly increased risk of later disability pension, asthma, and polycystic ovary syndrome symptoms.[ref]Reilly, John J., and Joanna Kelly. “Long-term impact of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence on morbidity and premature mortality in adulthood: systematic review.” International journal of obesity 35, no. 7 (2011): 891.[/ref]

Signs Of Obesity Need To Be Addressed Early On

Unfortunately, most parents find it extremely difficult to be objective about their child’s weight. Studies have shown that very few parents perceive their children as overweight, even if the child’s weight is in the top 15 percentile among peers; parents get worried only if their child is extremely overweight (in the top 1 percentile of peers). To make matters worse, research has shown that parents, in an attempt to discipline their children, tend to reward good behavior with unhealthy snacks.[ref]Eckstein, Kathryn C., Laura M. Mikhail, Adolfo J. Ariza, J. Scott Thomson, Scott C. Millard, and Helen J. Binns. “Parents’ perceptions of their child’s weight and health.” Pediatrics 117, no. 3 (2006): 681-690.[/ref] [ref]


Sometimes, a concern raised by the family doctor or the inability of the child to perform activities that are otherwise easily performed by children in the same age group rings a bell. However, in most cases, parents shrug off excess weight as “puppy fat”. Not taking timely action (because of ignorance or unwillingness to accept that their child could be overweight) leads to a considerable increase in risks associated with childhood and adult obesity.

So are there ways for parents to reach a more objective assessment of their child’s weight? Since weight tends to vary over time and every child’s growth curve is different, there is no simple, straightforward “yes/no” kind of assessment. While you shouldn’t be too worried if your child has a high activity level and a wholesome diet, the following guidelines could be useful to assess if your child could be overweight or has puppy fat:

  1. If your child has excessive fat/ flab on arms, back and tummy, your child could be overweight.
  2. If regular BMI checks reveal a consistent pattern of your child being in the top 15–25 percentile weight among peers, your child could be overweight.
  3. If you are obese or have a history of obesity or weight problems, your child could be overweight too. If you are fit (which probably implies that you have a healthy lifestyle and diet) and never had a tendency towards weight gain (which probably means obesity is not in the genes either), its likely that your child will not go on to be overweight.
  4. If your child finds it difficult to engage in physical activity that is otherwise considered to be simple for his/ her age group, your child could be overweight.

Note: Studies have found that criticizing your children for being fat might make them more likely to be overweight in the future. This is because fat shaming leaves children psychologically scarred and might lead them to take comfort in food. It might also lead to depression. Do approach the issue of obesity sensitively and refrain from using the words “fat,” “overweight,” or “obese” around your child. Instead, consult a doctor who can give you an idea of whether your child needs to lose weight and make healthy living a family goal, not just your child’s.[ref]Washington, Reginald L. “Peer reviewed: Childhood obesity: Issues of weight bias.” Preventing chronic disease 8, no. 5 (2011).[/ref] [ref]Fat shaming’ may lead to obesity in adult life. Florida State University.[/ref]

Approaches To Help Overweight Children Lose Weight

If your child is overweight, some changes are in order – most likely not just for your child, but for you as well![ref]Childhood Obesity and Weight Problems. Helpguide.[/ref] Here’s what you should be looking at

  • Diet improvements: This involves eating more fruit and vegetables, cutting out sugary soft drinks, eating a healthy breakfast and not having high-calorie snacks like biscuits or crisps between meals.
  • Increased physical activity: This includes taking part in sports, going on family walks, cycling to school or reducing the amount of television your child watches.
  • Banning unhealthy habits: This involves setting goals for healthy eating and activity, tackling hard-to-change habits and helping your child have more self-confidence and feel better about themselves.