Childhood obesity is a complex disease with many contributing factors, including genetics, eating patterns, physical activity levels, and sleep routines. Conditions where we live, learn, work, and play can make healthy eating and getting enough physical activity difficult if these conditions do not support 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. Adults with obesity have higher risks for stroke, many types of cancer, premature death, and mental illness, such as clinical depression and anxiety. Though there is no one solution to addressing obesity, there are many ways parents and caregivers can help children have a healthy weight and set up lifelong healthy habits at home.
Model a Healthy Eating Pattern
Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are often less expensive than fresh and still good for you.
Look for low sodium or no salt added vegetables and fruits packed in 100% fruit juice.
Adopting healthy eating patterns as a family helps children reach and maintain a healthy weight as they age. Eating a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean protein foods, and low-fat and fat-free dairy products follows nutrition guidelines and sets your family up for optimal health.
Help your children get the nutrients they need by making half their plate fruits and vegetables. Help kids rethink their drink by replacing sugary drinks, such as soda, fruit drinks, and flavored milk, with water, 100% juice, or plain low-fat milk.
Move More as a Family
Physically active youth have stronger muscles and bones, better cardiovascular fitness, and lower body fat than those who are inactive. Children aged 3–5 years should be physically active throughout the day. Children aged 6–17 years need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
Help your children move more and meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans by making it a family affair. Walking the family pet before and after school, riding bikes, and having races in the yard all count toward physical activity. Active chores, such as washing the car, vacuuming a room, or raking leaves, also count.
Set Consistent Sleep Routines
Good sleep helps prevent type 2 diabetes, obesity, injuries, and problems with attention and behavior. Kids who don’t get enough sleep are at risk for unhealthy weight gain. Researchers are still trying to learn how sleep is linked to weight gain. Some reasons might include causing a child to eat more or to be less physical active because of to lack of energy.
How much sleep do kids need? Preschoolers need 11–13 hours of sleep per day, including naps. Children 6–12 years old need 9–12 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, and youth 13–18 need 8–10 hours. Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, including on weekends, can help children sleep better.
Replace Screen Time with Family Time
In young people, too much screen time can lead to poor sleep, weight gain, lower grades in school, and poor mental health. Reducing screen time can free up time for family activities and can remove cues to eat unhealthy food.
Turning screens off an hour before bed and removing screens from children’s bedrooms can help reduce screen time and improve sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends creating a family media plan with examples of how to reduce screen time.
Talk to your child’s healthcare provider if you’re concerned about potential health risks associated with excess weight. Families can adopt healthy routines together, but they also need supportive environments. Learn more about what can be done to make healthy and active living accessible for everyone.