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Weight management for cerebral palsy fact sheet

Weight management for children with cerebral palsy

Children with cerebral palsy (CP) may have difficulty achieving a healthy weight. This could be due to
a number of reasons such as reduced physical activity, medications, altered metabolism. Maintaining
a healthy weight for height is important for good health. It is important to establish a healthy eating pattern and lifestyle during childhood and encourage this for life.

What to do:

  • Aim to keep weight stable until height catches up
  • Limit intake of high fat snack foods
  • Try to use non-food items (eg praise, stickers or books) for rewards or treats
  • Set a good example for your child
  • Encourage your child to learn to recognise feelings of hunger and fullness
  • Involve the whole family in diet and lifestyle changes
  • Follow a healthy eating pattern with regular meals and healthy snacks

What NOT to do:

  • Do not place your child on a very restrictive diet. This can result in a poor nutrient intake, as well as affecting the child’s growth rate
  • Do not aim for weight loss
  • Do not make negative comments about weight or size
  • Do not single a child out as being ‘on a diet’

What healthy snacks can I offer my child?

Choose snack foods based on breads, fruit, vegetables and low fat or reduced fat dairy foods that are filling and nutritious. These may include:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Low-fat yoghurt
  • Slice of fruit loaf/bun/raisin bread
  • Pikelets
  • Fruit/date/pumpkin or plain scones
  • Toasted muffin with a thin spread of fruit spread
  • Rice cakes/corn thins

What drinks are recommended?

  • Water should be encouraged as your child’s main drink
  • Limit cordial, soft drink and fruit juice
  • Reduced fat milk can be offered to children from 2 years.
  • Skim milk may be offered from 5 years

Remember if your child has a feeding or swallowing problem, your child’s food or drinks may need to be modified to a different texture or fluid thickness. Please check this with your speech pathologist.

What are occasional foods?

Processed foods high in fat and/or sugar should only be eaten occasionally. These include potato crisps, chocolate bars, cakes, pastries, doughnuts, sweet biscuits, pies, sausage rolls and fried takeaway foods.

Nutrition tips

  • Fruit has more fibre and fewer calories than fruit juice. Make fruit a regular lunch box item.
  • Use only small amounts of oil, margarine and butter
  • Have plenty of fruit and vegetables available Did you know that a can of soft drink and fruit juice contains 9 to 14 teaspoons of sugar?
  • Label reading – check the nutrition panel and choose products with
  • Choose lean cuts of meat rather than sausages and processed meats
  • Switch from white bread to wholemeal or multigrain bread
  • Eat wholegrain cereal for breakfast

What activity is recommended?

Ask your physiotherapist and occupational therapist for suggestions regarding physical activities suitable for your child’s age and level of physical ability.

Regular exercise and activity is an essential part of maintaining a healthy weight and good health.

  • Aim for 60 minutes a day of ‘huff and puff’ activities.
  • Limit time spent watching TV, playing computer games and similar activities to a maximum of two hours per day.
  • Daily exercise should be encouraged. It is important to involve the whole family in the activity.

Some activity ideas:

  • Basketball
  • Walk on bike path
  • Ride a trike/bike
  • Go to the gym
  • Leisure activities
  • Swimming
  • Obstacle courses
  • Dancing
  • Take pet for a walk
  • Sporting activities

Contact us

Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service
Queensland Children’s Hospital
Level 6, 501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane 4101
t: 07 3068 2950
t: 07 3068 1111 (general enquiries)
f: 07 3068 3909

In an emergency, always call 000.

If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Nutrition Education Materials Online Paediatric Group, (2009), Healthy Eating and Weight Control in Children, Queensland Health.

Department of Health and Ageing, National Health and Medical Research Council, (2005), Dietary Guidelines for Australians – A guide to healthy eating, Canberra.

World Health Organisation (2009) Recommended Amount of Physical Activity

Department of Health and Ageing, (2004) Australia’s Physical Activity Recommendations, Canberra

Resource No: FS207. Developed by the Queensland Paediatric Rehabilitation Service, Children’s Health Queensland. Updated: October 2015. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.