Childhood Obesity Prevention

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Most US children spend an average of 6 to 7 hours a day at school, which is a large part of their waking hours.1–3 Thus, schools are a priority setting for preventing childhood obesity,4–7 a health condition that affects nearly 1 in 5 young people of school age (6 to 19 years) in the United States.8

A comprehensive approach is most effective at addressing childhood obesity in schools, especially for elementary and middle school students.9,10 Scientists know less about what school-based obesity prevention approaches are effective for teenagers.9,10 A comprehensive approach means addressing nutrition and physical activity in schools and involving parents, caregivers, and other community members (e.g., pediatricians, after-school program providers). This kind of approach aims to support the health and well-being of all students. It does not single out students according to their weight status. To avoid embarrassing or shaming students, schools should not emphasize physical appearances or reinforce negative stereotypes about obesity.11

The WSCC Model and Childhood Obesity Prevention

WSCC model

Schools can apply the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model to guide their approach to preventing childhood obesity and supporting students with obesity. The WSCC model highlights how a child’s emotional, physical, and academic development requires multiple components, including:


Addressing these areas can help children achieve and maintain a healthy weight and attitude about weight.

CDC’s School Health Guidelines present evidence-based guidelines and strategies for putting a comprehensive approach in place. Strong state and local wellness policies can demonstrate schools’ commitment to these guidelines and a comprehensive approach to support physical activity and healthy eating. Research has linked these kinds of policies with improvements in the nutrition of foods and beverages sold and served in schools12 and opportunities for physical activity.13

  1. National Center for Educational Statistics. Table 103.20. Percentage of the population 3 to 34 years old enrolled in school, by age group: Selected years, 1940 through 2015. Digest of Education Statistics Accessed December 21, 2017.
  2. National Center for Educational Statistics. Average number of hours in the school day and average number of days in the school year for public schools, by state: 2007–08. Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). Accessed June 22, 2017.
  3. US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Adolescent Health. A Day in the Life website. Accessed December 20, 2017.
  4. Institute of Medicine. Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation.Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2012.
  5. US Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation. Rockville, MD: Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2010.
  6. Hoelscher DM, Kirk S, Ritchie L, Cunningham-Sabo L; Academy Positions Committee. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: interventions for the prevention and treatment of pediatric overweight and obesity. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013;113(10):1375–1394.
  7. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President. Washington, DC: White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity; 2010.
  8. Hales CM, Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Ogden CL. Prevalence of obesity among adults and youth: United States, 2015–2016. NCHS Data Brief. 2017;288:1–8.
  9. Wang Y, Cai L, Wu Y, et al. What childhood obesity prevention programmes work? A systematic review and meta‐Obes Rev. 2015;16(7):547–565.
  10. Sobol‐Goldberg S, Rabinowitz J, Gross R. School‐based obesity prevention programs: a meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. 2013;21(12):2422–2428.
  11. Brownell KD, Schwartz MB, Puhl RM, Henderson KE, Harris JL. The need for bold action to prevent adolescent obesity. J Adolesc Health. 2009;45(suppl 3):S8–S17.
  12. Chriqui JF, Pickel M, Story M. Influence of school competitive food and beverage policies on obesity, consumption, and availability: a systematic review. JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(3):279–286.
  13. Bassett DR, Fitzhugh EC, Heath GW, et al. Estimated energy expenditures for school-based policies and active living. Am J Prev Med. 2013;44(2):108–113.