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What We Know about Preventing Childhood Obesity

It’s an epidemic, but what can actually be done?

Children playing, reducing risk of childhood obesity


Childhood obesity, and the fact that it has continued to rise over the last two decades, has been a hot topic for years. We continue to have a lot to learn about how to help children grow up in a healthy way. But here are the basics of what we do know about childhood obesity.


The risks of obesity in children


According to the Centers for Disease Control, children who are obese are more likely to have diabetes, future heart and kidney failure, asthma, sleep apnea, joint problems, depression, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and a higher risk of certain cancers. And on top of the health risks, they’re also more likely to be bullied or socially isolated.

So what can be done? Here are some experts’ recommendations on where to start:

Learn to talk about it in a safe way

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests using neutral words like “weight” and “body mass index” rather than words such as “fat” or “weight problem”—as these can induce feelings of sadness or embarrassment when used by parents. Encourage healthier conversations with your child about weight by using language that isn’t potentially stigmatizing or harmful.

Parents have the opportunity to be a supportive role model by communicating with nonjudgmental language and by also modeling healthy choices and behaviors.

Remember the basics of healthy eating

  • Avoid processed foods
  • Include plenty of vegetables and fruits in your diet
  • Make sure your grains are whole-grains
  • Seek healthy sources of protein such as lentils, beans, fish, or lean meats
  • Limit sugar intake
  • Serve appropriate portion sizes

Related: 10 Ways to Give Positive Encouragement to Your Child

Be creative with your activities

Being physically active is essential for children, regardless if they struggle with their weight. Find something that motivates them to get moving.  

Related: Is Your Child Ready for a Smartphone?

Limit screen time

Long-term studies consistently show that the more television children watch, the more excess weight they will likely gain, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. And if the TV is in the child’s bedroom, it also increases the risk of weight gain compared to children who do not have a TV in their room.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children younger than 18 months. Children ages 18 to 24 months should only watch educational shows that parents watch with them. And for children ages two to five, screen time should be no more than an hour of educational shows. For children six and up, the AAP recommends having a consistent limit on screen time.

While there still are a lot of unknowns about childhood obesity, there are plenty of things parents can do now to help their children live a healthier lifestyle.

What activities do your children enjoy? Tell us on Facebook—we’d love to hear from you. And while you’re here, check out our other articles on healthy living. For more information on our medical and dental plans, visit selecthealth.org/plans.

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Amberlee Lovell Peterson
Amberlee is a content manager, freelance writer, and designer. She is currently working on launching her own podcast and loves baby foxes.