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 Data from 2015–2016 show that nearly 1 in 5 school-age children and young people aged 6 to 19 years in the United States has obesity.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 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 or body size. To avoid embarrassing or shaming students, schools should not emphasize physical appearances or reinforce negative stereotypes about obesity.3