Obesity

Busy High School Corridor During Recess With Blurred Students And Staff

 

In the United States, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s.1 In 2017–2018, an estimated 19.3% of US children and adolescents aged 2 to19 years have obesity, but this rate varied by race and ethnicity. It was 25.6% for Hispanic children, 24.2% for Black children, 16.1% for White children, and 8.7% for Asian children.2 Many factors contribute to childhood obesity, including3-8:

  • Genetics.
  • Metabolism—how your body changes food and oxygen into energy it can use.
  • Eating and physical activity behaviors.
  • Community and neighborhood design and safety.
  • Short sleep duration.
  • Negative childhood events.

Genetic factors cannot be changed. However, people and places can play a role in helping children achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Changes in the environments where young people spend their time—like homes, schools, and community settings—can make it easier for youths to access nutritious foods and be physically active. Schools can adopt policies and practices that help young people eat more fruits and vegetables, eat fewer foods and beverages that are high in added sugars or solid fats, and increase daily minutes of physical activity.4,9-14  These kinds of school-based and after-school programs and policies can be cost-effective and even cost-saving.12-14

For more information about childhood obesity, visit Child & Teen Healthy Weight and Obesity.

Addressing Obesity in Schools

A comprehensive approach is most effective at addressing childhood obesity in schools, especially for elementary and middle school students.1,2 Scientists know less about what school-based obesity prevention approaches are effective for teenagers.1,2 A comprehensive approach means directing attention to nutrition and physical activity in schools and involving school nurses, parents, caregivers, and other community members (e.g., pediatricians, after-school program providers) in the process. This approach aims to support the health and well-being of all students. It does not single out students according to their weight status or body size. Overweight and obesity are sensitive issues for students and families and must be addressed with compassion, understanding, and care.15 To avoid embarrassing or shaming students, schools should not emphasize physical appearances or reinforce negative stereotypes about obesity.3

 

How School Nurses Can Help
School nurse works with teen on achieving a healthy weight.

School nurses play an important role to prevent and reduce student overweight and obesity prevalence. School nurses can address the complex physical, social, and health education needs of children and adolescents who are overweight or who have obesity.15, 16 School nurses have the knowledge and skills to create a culture of health and wellness in school, promote and implement school-based policies and strategies for healthy eating and physical activity, coordinate care with families and health care professionals, and lead the school community to influence policy changes that reinforce healthy eating, physical education, and physical activity before, during, and after school.