Preventing Childhood Obesity: 5 Things You Can Do at Home

Obesity is a complex disease with many contributing factors, but there are ways parents and caregivers can help children on their journey to good health.

About 1 in 5 American children has obesity. Compared to children with healthy weight, children with overweight or obesity are at a higher risk for asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Children with obesity are also more likely to experience bullying, social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem. While there is no simple solution, there are many ways parents and caregivers can help children reach a healthy weight.

Eat the Rainbow

How much of each food group do you and your family need?

Find out with a personalized MyPlate Planexternal icon.

Having a healthy diet can help children get the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development, and help them reach a healthy weight. A healthy diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat or fat-free dairy.

Unfortunately, very few people get enough fruits and vegetables. In 2017, just 2% of high school students ate enough vegetables, and 7% ate enough fruit. Help your kids eat the rainbow: make half of their plate fruits and vegetables for optimal health.

Move More

Compared to those who are inactive, physically active youth have stronger muscles and better cardiovascular fitness. They also typically have lower body fat and stronger bones. Regular physical activity in childhood also reduces the risk of depression. Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day – try these tips to help your kids move moreexternal icon.

Slow Down on Sugar

Be aware of your child’s growth.

Learn how obesity is measured in children, and use CDC’s Child and Teen BMI Calculator to screen your child for potential weight issues.

Most of us eat and drink too many added sugars, which can lead to health problems such as weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Children under age 2 should have no added sugar in their diet at all, and children over age 2 should keep sugars to less than 10% of their daily calories.

A good way to slow down on sugar is by avoiding sugary drinks like soda, juice drinks, and flavored milk. Help your kids rethink their drink by offering water, plain low-fat milk, or 100% juice instead.

Reduce Screen Time:

Adults and children spend over 7 hours a day being sedentary – and that doesn’t include time spent sleeping! Many of these sedentary hours are spent sitting or laying down on a phone, tablet, or computer; watching TV; or playing video games (also known as screen time).

Too much screen time has health consequences: it’s associated with poor sleep, weight gain, lower grades in school, and poor mental health in youth. When you reduce screen time, you free up time for family activities. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends creating a family media planexternal icon, and has examples such as keeping meal times tech-free, charging devices at night outside the bedroom, turning screens off an hour before bed, and many more.

Sleep Well

Good sleep is critical to prevent type 2 diabetes, obesity, injuries, poor mental health, and problems with attention and behavior. Did you know that children 6-12 years old need 9-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night and youth 13-18 need 8-10 hours? Too little sleep is associated with obesity partly because inadequate sleep can make us eat more and be less physically active. Help your children sleep better by making sure they’re active during the day, removing screens from their bedrooms, and setting a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends.

Kids imitate the adults in their lives. Be a role model for them by adopting these healthy habits, and they will too! Finally, remember that obesity is a complex disease with many contributing factors. Learn more about what states and communities can do to make healthy and active living accessible for everyone.