Why Kids Overeat and How You Can Help Them Stop

Why Kids Overeat and How You Can Help Them Stop

Overeating in kids can lead to obesity. Learn how to prevent overeating and to help your child maintain a healthy weight.

By Melissa Chen, MD, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

Overweight and obese kids face serious health concerns. The extra weight puts kids and teens at risk for many health problems, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Eating too much and exercising too little may lead to extra weight gain. By understanding why kids overeat, you can help your child get on the right path to a healthy weight.

Why do kids overeat?
Kids and teens overeat for several reasons:

  • Frequent snacking. Sometimes kids snack because they are bored, depressed, anxious, or stressed. Or snacking is just something to do while watching TV. Try to limit snacks to two a day. Buy fewer high-fat and high-sugar snacks. And offer healthy snack choices such as fruit, carrot or celery sticks, low-fat yogurt, and light microwave popcorn. Limit screen time - watching TV or playing video games - and encourage physical activity to relieve boredom or stress. Also, talk with your children about whatever is bothering them. Help them find healthy ways to deal with emotions so they don't need to reach for food to feel better.
  • Skipping meals. If your child skips a meal, especially breakfast, he or she will be hungry, tired, and more likely to snack on less healthy foods later in the day, as well as overeat. Make sure your child eats three balanced meals a day by serving a variety of nutritious foods and drinks. Offer low-fat milk and water, and limit sugary drinks like juice and soda. Also, try to have meals at the same time every day. If your child knows dinner will be served at a certain time, he or she may be less likely to snack too much beforehand.
  • Larger portion sizes. Portion sizes have gotten larger both at home and at restaurants. By serving larger portions, you may be encouraging your child to eat more than he or she needs. To keep portion sizes in check and limit weight gain, prepare your child's plate with smaller servings. And let your child ask for more food if he or she is still hungry. Also, eat meals together as a family. This family time allows you to encourage healthy eating habits and to keep an eye on what and how much your child is eating.
  • Eating out. Busy families often eat out, especially on weekends. Kids - and adults - tend to overeat at fast-food restaurants with their "super-sized" portions of fries and at all-you-can-eat buffets with unlimited helpings of food and dessert. Most children can enjoy all foods if they are eaten in moderation. Encourage your child to choose small-sized fries or one small helping of each food choice. Remember, it's important to continue healthy eating habits and portion control when eating out.

Healthy eating and regular physical activity habits are keys to maintaining a healthy weight. Help your child on his or her path toward wellness and better health by preventing overeating.


  • American Academy of Pediatrics. Snacking and grazing. Accessed: 09/02/2010
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. Structured eating. Accessed: 09/02/2010
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. Emotional eating. Accessed: 09/02/2010
  • Weight-control Information Network. Helping your overweight child. Accessed: 09/02/2010

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