My 5 year old daughter is 4 feet tall and weighs 59 pounds. I would like to help her slim down.

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I was very happy to find your website as I cannot seem to get answers anywhere about my 5-year-old daughter. She is exactly four feet tall and weighs 59 pounds. She carries most of this weight around her middle and her stomach sticks out quite a bit. She has become very aware of her size and I would like to help her slim down, but I don’t know where to begin. How many calories a day should she be eating, how many from fat and how do I figure this all out?

I have cut back on snacks although she never had many ‘bad’ ones to begin with usually fruit or crackers. She is fairly active in swimming lessons and plays with her friends outside a lot. I really don’t know what to do. Please help this has become a real issue in her life and as a result mine too!

Your daughter’s doctor probably has documented your daughter’s height/weight in her medical record since birth. What we like to see in children is continued growth at their own rate. What we don’t like to see is growth dropping off or flattening out for more than 3 to 6 months (depending on child’s age). Physical growth parallels brain growth which continues until age 10. Restricting calories could impair her brain development. Growing kids need fat to grow nerve tissue, make hormones and as carriers of fat-soluble vitamins (A, vitamin D, vitamin E, K ).

Have you tried the Healthy Kid Calculator®? I entered your daughter’s data. She is tall for height (above the 97% percentile for a 5-year 7-month-old girl) and appropriate weight for height (above the 97% percentile for a 5-year 6-month-old girl). So relax as she is OK. Her BMI is 18 and the healthy range for her age is 13 to 19.

Without knowing her daily activity, I couldn’t estimate her calorie intake and feel this would be unnecessary given her weight is appropriate for her height. She does not need a calorie or fat restricted eating plan unless ordered by her doctor for medical reasons other than weight.

Your daughter is physically active in swimming and playing outside. At least she isn’t a cartoon couch potato! Why not plan some parent and daughter activities like walking or bike riding? You may have to slow down your pace, but you will be modeling a lifetime of exercise habits.

It sounds like you are concerned about what she eats and I would suggest de-emphasizing food. Since you are probably the food shopper, I will speak to you. Buy a variety of foods using My Plate to create your menu. Allow your daughter some input into selecting foods when shopping. For example, you can teach her to choose healthy foods over junk foods by what foods you buy and cook for your family. Offer her appropriate choices and allow her to choose from among healthy foods. Start with cereals or snacks. For instance, allow her to pick cold cereals with less than 8 grams of sucrose per serving on the Nutrition Facts food label. Watch out in grocery stores because higher sugar cereals are usually on the bottom shelf at a child’s height. Don’t overemphasize low fat or fat-free foods. Buy the regular version of foods and offer appropriate serving sizes for her age. Encourage her to taste new foods as it may take 10 times of trying a new food before she likes it.

Take a look around. The American public is getting fatter even with the proliferation of low fat and fat-free foods. These foods are not calorie free. The American public needs to be more physically active.

I periodically talk to young children about nutrition and am very concerned when 5-year-olds pinch fat around their middles while exclaiming how fat they are. Five-year-old children should not be concerned about their body fat; they should be concerned about just being kids. After working in an anorexia and bulimia eating disorders therapy group for 4 years, that behavior shocks me that children that young would be concerned about their body fat. What I am trying to gently say to you is ease up on your concern for your daughter’s weight and food choices or you may be encouraging the development of an eating disorder. Some research shows that when parents are the food restrictors, children actually gain more weight.

It is normal for children to have some body fat and rounding to their bodies. Encourage your daughter to be a strong, physically active girl who is accepting of her body image. She will need your support and encouragement as she is going to be the tallest girl in her class in school if she keeps growing at the same rate.