Promoting Health for Children and Adolescents

How CDC is Promoting Health for Children and Adolescents

Establishing healthy behaviors to prevent chronic disease is easier and more effective during childhood and adolescence than trying to change unhealthy behaviors during adulthood. CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion works with parents, early care and education (ECE) facilities, schools, health systems, and communities to keep children healthy.

Fast Stats

In the United States:

child feet on a scale clipart

21.2% OF ADOLESCENTS

aged 12 to 19 have obesity.
doctor and child

2 IN 5 STUDENTS

has a chronic health condition.
backpack and tobacco products

23.6% OF HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS

use at least one tobacco product.

CDC’s Approach

Reducing Obesity Risk in ECE Facilities

Childhood obesity is a serious national problem. In the United States, over 13% of children aged 2 to 5 years have obesity. Children’s health behaviors are shaped by many settings, including their home, ECE facilities, schools, and communities.

ECE settings—which include day care, preschool and pre-K facilities, and care provided in homes—are ideal places to encourage good nutrition and physical activity for early obesity prevention. CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity funds recipients who work to improve the quality of ECE programs across state and local levels—for example, through standards and licensing, technical assistance networks, and training requirements for providers.

Improving Healthy Food Options in School
diverse group of girls holding healthy lunches at school

The percentage of obesity is over 20% for children aged 6 to 11 and over 21% for adolescents aged 12 to 19. Children who have obesity are at higher risk of having obesity as adults. School is an ideal setting for children to learn and practice healthy eating.

Most US children attend school for 6 to 7 hours a day and consume as much as half of their daily calories at school. CDC Healthy Schools in the Division of Population Health recommends that schools create an environment that helps students make healthy choices about foods and beverages.

Some examples of CDC-recommended actions to improve nutrition in schools are:

  • Promote access to and participation in school breakfast and lunch.
  • Ensure that all foods and drinks sold or served outside of school meal programs are nutritious and appealing.
  • Offer healthy foods and drinks at school celebrations and events. Use only nonfood items as rewards.
  • Provide more access to drinking water.
  • Promote healthy foods and drinks—for example, by pricing them lower than less healthy items.
  • Teach nutrition in health education classes, throughout the school day, and in after-school programs—for example, through school gardens and farm-to-school activities.
  • Provide students enough time (at least 20 minutes) once they are seated to enjoy their meal.

CDC funds state departments of education to increase the number of students who consume nutritious foods and drinks.

Improving School Physical Education and Physical Activity Opportunities in School

About one-fourth of adolescents get the recommended 60 minutes a day of physical activity. CDC Healthy Schools recommends that schools offer students multiple ways to be physically active, which will help them build healthy habits for a lifetime.

Schools are encouraged to:

  • Offer physical education to increase students’ knowledge, skills, and confidence to be physically active. Physical education can also help improve academic outcomes, like grades and standardized test scores, and classroom behavior.
  • Offer recess at all grade levels to encourage students to be physically active and engaged with their peers in activities of their choice.
  • Integrate physical activity into classroom instruction.
  • Promote before- and after-school opportunities to be physically active, through walking or biking programs, physical activity clubs, intramural programs, and competitive sports.
  • Provide equal opportunities for students with disabilities to be physically active.

CDC funds state departments of education to increase the number of students who participate in daily physical education and physical activity.

Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People

Nearly 9 in 10 adults who smoke cigarettes in the United States first tried a cigarette before age 18. Every day, about 1,600 young people under 18 try their first cigarette, and nearly 200 end up smoking cigarettes daily. About 7 of every 100 middle school students and about 24 of every 100 high school students report current use of some type of tobacco product.

Any tobacco use among young people—whether smoked, smokeless, or electronic—is unsafe because nicotine is addictive and can harm the developing brain. Nicotine exposure during adolescence affects learning, memory, and attention and primes the brain for addiction.

CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health is at the forefront of the nation’s efforts to reduce deaths and prevent chronic diseases that result from commercial* tobacco use. CDC’s activities include:

  • Monitoring youth tobacco use through the National Youth Tobacco Survey, which focuses on use, beliefs, and knowledge about tobacco among middle and high school students.
  • Funding 50 states and the District of Columbia, 8 US territories and freely associated states, 26 tribes, 8 national networks, and several other partners to support their efforts to prevent youth tobacco use and reduce tobacco-related disease and death.
  • Helping parents, educators, health care providers, and other youth influencers understand and talk to young people about the risks of tobacco products by developing easy-to-understand materials.

* When CDC references tobacco on this web page, we are referring to the use of commercial tobacco and not the sacred and traditional use of tobacco by some American Indian communities.

Helping Children and Adolescents Manage Chronic Conditions
doctor giving child an inhaler

About 2 in 5 US students aged 6 to 17 has a chronic health condition such as asthma, diabetes, or epilepsy. Managing students’ chronic health conditions can be a challenge for school personnel. A coordinated effort that involves family members, community groups, social service agencies, and medical providers working with teachers, school nurses, and staff is crucial.

The health care needs of children with chronic health conditions can be complex and continuous and include both daily management and potential emergencies. Ensuring that students have the health services they need to manage their chronic conditions while at school is important in helping them stay healthy and ready to learn.

CDC funds state education agencies to improve the delivery of health services in schools and increase the number of students who can effectively manage their chronic health conditions.

Supporting Social and Emotional Learning

Social and emotional learning can help children and adolescents develop the skills they need to recognize and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, appreciate the perspectives of others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. A positive social and emotional climate at school enables students to develop these skills.

CDC supports school policies and practices for social and emotional learning and creating a positive social and emotional climate to improve students’ overall health and academic achievement.

Promoting the Use of Dental Sealants

Dental sealants are protective coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, where most cavities start. Although use of sealants has increased, this effective intervention remains underused. Less than half of children aged 6 to 11 have dental sealants. The use of dental sealants also varies among racial and ethnic groups, as does the prevalence of treated and untreated cavities. Children from lower-income households are twice as likely to have untreated cavities as those from higher-income households. They are also less likely to have dental sealants.

School sealant programs provide dental sealants at no charge to children who are less likely to receive private dental care. These programs provide sealants to students at school using mobile dental equipment. Providing these services at school is especially effective at reaching children at risk of developing cavities.

Programs funded by CDC’s Division of Oral Health focus on schools that serve children at high risk of cavities. CDC provides guidance to state and community programs to help them plan, set up, and evaluate school sealant programs and to complement services provided by private dentists. An online data collection tool called SEALS allows programs to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of their efforts.

Promoting Better Sleep
child sleeping in bed during the day

Sleep is increasingly recognized as a component of good health. Children who don’t get enough sleep are at increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, attention and behavior problems, poor mental health, and injuries. Children aged 6 to 12 need 9 to 12 hours of sleep a night. Teens aged 13 to 18 need 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night.

CDC works to increase parents’ awareness about their children’s need for good sleep and how they can help their children get enough—for example, by setting the same bed and wake-up times each day, including on the weekends, and by modeling good sleep behaviors.

Page last reviewed: March 29, 2022