Preventing Obesity in Children, Teens, and Adults
Facts about prevention
Obesity is a chronic disease affecting increasing numbers of children, teens and adults.
Obesity rates among children in the U.S. have doubled since 1980 and have tripled
for adolescents. About 17% of children aged 2 to 19 are considered obese, compared
to over 35% of adults who are considered obese.
Earlier onset of type 2 diabetes, heart and blood vessel disease, and obesity-related
depression and social isolation in children and teens are being seen more often by
healthcare professionals. The longer a person is obese, the more significant obesity-related
risk factors become. Given the chronic diseases and conditions associated with obesity
and the fact that obesity is difficult to treat, prevention is extremely important.
A primary reason that prevention of obesity is so vital in children is because the
likelihood of childhood obesity persisting into adulthood increases as the child ages.
This puts the person at high risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC, breastfed babies are
less likely to become overweight. The CDC also reports that the longer babies are
breastfed, the less likely they are to become overweight as they grow older. However,
many formula-fed babies grow up to be adults of healthy weight. If your child was
not breastfed, it does not mean that he or she cannot achieve a healthy weight.
Children and adolescents
Young people generally become overweight or obese because of poor eating habits and
lack of physical activity. Genetics and lifestyle also contribute to a child's weight
Recommendations for prevention of overweight and obesity during childhood and adolescence
Gradually work to change family eating habits and activity levels rather than focusing
on a child's weight.
Be a role model. Parents who eat healthy foods and participate in physical activity
set an example so that a child is more likely to do the same.
Encourage physical activity. Children should have 60 minutes of moderate physical
activity most days of the week. More than 60 minutes of activity may promote weight
loss and provide weight maintenance.
Reduce "screen" time in front of the television and computer to less than 1 to 2 hours
Encourage children to eat only when hungry and to eat slowly.
Avoid using food as a reward or withholding food as a punishment.
Keep the refrigerator stocked with fat-free or low-fat milk, fresh fruit, and vegetables
instead of soft drinks and snacks high in sugar and fat.
Serve at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
Encourage children to drink water rather than beverages with added sugar. These include
soft drinks, sports drinks, and fruit juice drinks.
Many of the strategies that produce successful weight loss and maintenance help prevent
obesity. Improving eating habits and increasing physical activity play a vital role
in preventing obesity. Recommendations for adults include:
Keep a food diary of what you ate, where you ate, and how you were feeling before
and after you ate.
Eat 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. A vegetable serving is 1 cup of
raw vegetables or 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables or vegetable juice. A fruit serving
is 1 piece of small to medium fresh fruit, 1/2 cup of canned or fresh fruit or fruit
juice, or 1/4 cup of dried fruit.
Choose whole grain foods, such as brown rice and whole wheat bread. Avoid highly processed
foods made with refined white sugar, flour, high-fructose corn syrup and saturated
Weigh and measure food in order to be able to learn correct portion sizes. For example,
a 3-ounce serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards. Avoid supersized menu items.
Balance the food "checkbook." If you eat more calories than you burn you will gain
weight. Weigh yourself on a weekly basis.
Avoid foods that are high in "energy density," or that have a lot of calories in a
small amount of food. For example, an average cheeseburger with and order of fries can
have as much as 1,000 calories and 30 or more grams of fat. By ordering a grilled
chicken sandwich or a plain hamburger and a small salad with low-fat dressing, you
can avoid hundreds of calories and eliminate much of the fat intake. For dessert,
have a serving of fruit, yogurt, a small piece of angel food cake, or a piece of dark
chocolate instead of frosted cake, ice cream, or pie.
Simply reducing portion sizes and using a smaller plate can help you lose weight.
Aim for an average of 40 minutes or more of moderate to intense physical activity 3
to 4 days each week. Examples of moderate intensity exercise are walking a 15-minute
mile, or weeding and hoeing a garden. Running or playing singles tennis are examples
of more intense activities.
Look for ways to get even 10 or 15 minutes of some type of activity during the day.
Walking around the block or up and down a few flights of stairs is a good start.