By Health Promotion Board in collaboration with A/Prof Marion Aw, Senior Consultant, Division of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Nutrition, Hepatology and Liver Transplantation, National University Hospital.

While not all overweight children grow up to be overweight adults, a study conducted by the Health Promotion Board has revealed that 70% of kids who are overweight at age seven will remain that way as adults. So, it’s not true that being chubby is just a phase that kids will eventually grow out of.


For most adults and children, being obese and overweight results from an energy imbalance which occurs over time. This happens when the energy (calories) we consumed from food and drinks (known as energy INput) exceeds the energy (calories) used for daily activities (known as energy OUTput). This energy imbalance is a result of excessive intake of food and drink, especially those high in fat, sugar and salt, as well as reduced physical activity. Parents play an important role in shaping a healthy lifestyle and maintaining adequate energy balance for their children. Here are some tips to do just that.

In general,

 Energy Input > Energy Output: Weight Gain

Energy Input < Energy Output: Weight Loss

Energy Input = Energy Output: Weight stays the same 

Nurturing Healthy Eating Habits

Know Your Portions

Excess calories can lead to obesity, so parents should keep an eye on the serving portions from each major food group—how much wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, and meat/others your little one should be getting per day.

Avoid super-sized portions. Do not offer children adult portions. Instead give them what is required for each meal. For more information on the serving sizes children need, please visit 'Birth to Eighteen Years - Dietary Tips for your child's wellbeing'.

Related: Nutrition for Your Toddler

Eat Healthy

Instead of deep frying, opt for healthier methods such as boiling, grilling, or steaming. Use less oil, sugar, and salt when preparing meals for the family.

Avoid stocking up on snacks which are high in fat, sugar and salt at home as this may encourage unhealthy snacking among children. Provide healthier choices such as a fruit, carrot sticks, low-fat yoghurt, wholegrain crackers or wholemeal sandwiches as alternative snacks.

  • Look out for the HCS symbol (HCS)
    When buying food and drinks from the supermarket, look out for the Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS). These have less fat, salt and sugar compared to other similar products.
  • Give vegetables an interesting twist
    Getting children to eat their greens may not always be easy. Try cutting vegetables into different shapes and sizes to make them more visually appealing. Use different vegetables to add colour to the food. Apart from vegetables, also remember to let children enjoy the goodness of a variety of fruits.

Related: Healthy Snacks for Kids 

No Dieting

Having said that, mum and dad should not put their toddlers on a restrictive diet. What’s more important is to make sure junior eats healthily and is physically active. It is also critical to build healthy eating habits from young.

If you’re worried, talk to your doctor. In general, when children are overweight, doctors would not advise them to lose weight. Instead, the aim would be for a slower rate of weight gain, or to maintain the child’s weight for a while (instead of gaining weight). This way, when the child grows taller, he will be closer to the healthy weight for his height! 

  • Provide regular meals
    Ensuring that children have regular meals will prevent them from over-eating at other times. Having breakfast is important as children tend to eat more to compensate for hunger later in the day if they skip breakfast.

Related: Nutrition Counts for Your Growing Child  

Engaging Children in an Active Lifestyle

WHO recommends at least 180 minutes of physical activity per day for children 1 to 4 years while children and youth aged 5 to 17 years should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity per day. 

Moderate-intensity activities are those which cause a slight increase in breathing and heart rate. Examples of these activities are brisk walking, cycling, swimming and dancing. The recommended daily duration of physical activity does not have to be fulfilled all at one go, but can be broken up into shorter periods of 10-15 minutes each time.

Get Moving

  • Make physical activity part of the daily routine.
    For instance, take the stairs instead of the lift. Take a walk to the supermarket instead of driving there or taking a bus.
  • Variety. Variety. Variety.
    Let children experience a variety of activities. This will allow them to find out more about different activities and help them discover their interest in one or some of them. Physical activities need not be limited to sports, it could even include exciting activities such as dance.
  • Limit screen time.
    Doing so will encourage children to engage in less sedentary behaviours and enable them to reap the benefits of regular physical activity. This will also help to limit their exposure to TV advertisements which promote food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt. Such advertisements may influence their food choices and result in unhealthy eating.

It is a good idea for the whole family to get active together.

Parents should be good role models for their children, providing encouragement and motivation to lead an active lifestyle by way of sports or play. Activities such as walks in the parks, cycling, kite-flying etc. can be enjoyed by the entire family and strengthen family bonds at the same time. Caregivers may also bring children for outdoor play when the weather permits. Parents may consider introducing their favourite sport to their children and encourage them to be active and have a healthy interest in exercise from a young age.  For birthdays and other special occasions, try to pick gifts that will encourage your kid to be physically active—such as a kite, a hula hoop, or a ball.

As parents, and the most influential people in your child’s life, it is important to set a good example by eating right and being physically active yourself. Being a positive role model for your child can instil the right attitude and habits that will help him nurture a healthy lifestyle.

Visit Parent Hub, for more useful tips and guides to give your baby a healthy start.

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