Improving quality of life for the differently abled Children & Adults


By Noel McCluney PT, DPT, PCS                                                                                                   

 Do you look at your child and wonder if they are overweight or even obese? You are not alone. Currently, childhood obesity has doubled in the last two decades with 31.9% of children and adolescents considered overweight and 16.3% considered obese.1 Further, some research is indicating these numbers may be higher in the autism population.2 Though these statistics are dire, the good news is that obesity is a very preventable condition. Your child does not have to suffer the significant consequences of obesity including (but not limited to) cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, joint pain, low self- esteem/confidence and depression.3 After reading this article you will know

1.) How to identify if you child is overweight or obese.

2.) What calorie intake your child should be eating.

3.) How to make healthier food and lifestyle choices.

4.) Many more resources to help.

 How do I know if my child is overweight?

 In order to identify if your child is overweight/obese you need to calculate their Body Mass Index or BMI.  This is a measurement that takes into account a person’s height and weight to determine if they are above or below typical.  It has its flaws in that it does not take into account lean body mass (i.e. muscle mass) so it can overestimate a person’s BMI who is fit but very muscular. However, for the typical population, it is a good general indicator of health.

 To calculate your child’s BMI:

 1.) Measure their height

2.) Measure their weight

3.) Calculate their BMI

The easiest way to calculate BMI is to use an online calculator like at the US Department of Health and Human Services 4

 What does this BMI number mean?

 Underweight=  < 18.5

Normal Weight= 18.5-24.9

Overweight= 25-29.9

Obesity= 30 or >

 Additionally, you can look on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) growth charts to see where your child falls in relation to age matched peers. Between the 85-95 percentile is considered overweight and above the 95 percentile is obese. 

How many calories should my child be eating each day?

 According to the American Heart Association (AHA) Dietary Guidelines

 Recommended calorie intake:

1 Year: 900 kcal/day

2-3 Years: 1000 kcal/day

4-8 Years: 1200 kcal/day for girls and 1400 kcal/day for boys

9-13 Years: 1600 kcal/day for girls and 1800 kcal/day for boys

14-18 Years: 1800 kcal/day for girls and 2200 kcal/day for boys

 What are some tips/tricks for healthy eating and weight management?

 There are many different resources with tips on living a healthier lifestyle (3, 6). Here are a few tips I selected.

 Good Food Choices:

-       Limit fast food, take out, and eating out.

-       Limit fat intake and choose good sources of fat like fish, nuts and vegetable oils.

-       Serve a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. Each meal should contain at least 1 fruit or vegetable.

-       Serve whole-grain/high-fiber breads and cereals rather than refined grain products. Look for “whole grain” as the first ingredient on the food label.

-       Limit juice intake. Try diluting juice with water or drinking just water.

-       Serve fat-free and low-fat dairy foods.


-       Regularly eat family meals together.

-       Be good role models by making healthy eating and daily physical activity the norm for their family.

-       Create a home where healthy choices are available and encouraged.

-       Make it fun – find ways to engage your children such as:

  •  playing a game of tag, 
  • cooking healthy meals together, 
  • creating a rainbow shopping list to find colorful fruits and vegetables,
  • go on a walking scavenger hunt through the neighborhood, or 
  • grow a family garden. 

-       Get 1 hour of physical activity a day (does not need to be consecutive)

 Seek advice:

-       Ask your child’s speech or occupational therapist for help with picky eating or problem feeding.

-       Ask your child’s physical therapist for advice on how to incorporate appropriate exercise into your child’s life.  


(1) Ogden C, et al.  “High Body Mass Index for Age Among US Children and Adolescents, 2003 – 2006.”  Journal of the American Medical Association 2008, vol. 299, pp. 2401 – 2405.

(2) Curtin, C et al. “The prevalence of obesity in children with autism: a secondary data analysis using nationally representative data from the National Survey of Children’s Health.” BMC Pediatrics 2010, 10:11.

(3) American Academy of Pediatrics.

(4) US Department of Health and Human Services

(5) CDC  

(6) American Heart Association (AHA) Dietary Guidelines

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