Home | Donate | Contact Us | Physicians | 1.888.STJOES1
St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center

Back to Document

Preventing Obesity in Children, Teens, and Adults

Facts about prevention

Obesity is a chronic disease affecting increasing numbers of children and teens. Obesity rates among children in the U.S. have doubled since 1980 and have tripled for adolescents. About 17 percent of children aged 2 to 19 are considered obese, compared to over 66 percent of adults who are considered obese. An additional 31 percent are considered overweight.

Earlier onset of type 2 diabetes, heart and blood vessel disease, and obesity-related depression and social isolation in children and teens are being seen more frequently by health care professionals. The longer a person is obese, the more significant obesity-related risk factors become. Given the chronic diseases and conditions associated with obesity and the fact that obesity is difficult to treat, prevention is extremely important.

A primary reason that prevention of obesity is so vital in children is because the likelihood of childhood obesity persisting into adulthood increases as the child ages, putting the person at high risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Infants

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC, breastfed babies are less likely to become overweight. The CDC also reports that the longer babies are breastfed, the less likely they are to become overweight as they grow older. However, many formula-fed babies grow up to be adults of healthy weight. If your child was not breastfed, it does not mean that he or she cannot achieve a healthy weight.

Children and adolescents

Young people generally become overweight or obese because of poor eating habits and lack of physical activity. Genetics and lifestyle also contribute to a child's weight status.

Recommendations for prevention of overweight and obesity during childhood and adolescence include:

  • Gradually work to change family eating habits and activity levels rather than focusing on a child's weight.

  • Be a role model. Parents who eat healthy foods and participate in physical activity set an example so that a child is more likely to do the same.

  • Encourage physical activity. Children should have 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. More than 60 minutes of activity may promote weight loss and provide weight maintenance.

  • Reduce "screen" time in front of the television and computer to less than one to two hours daily.

  • Encourage children to eat only when hungry and to eat slowly.

  • Avoid using food as a reward or withholding food as a punishment.

  • Keep the refrigerator stocked with fat-free or low-fat milk, fresh fruit, and vegetables instead of soft drinks and snacks high in sugar and fat.

  • Serve at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

  • Encourage children to drink water rather than beverages with added sugar, such as soft drinks, sports drinks, and fruit juice drinks.

Adults

Many of the strategies that produce successful weight loss and maintenance help prevent obesity. Improving eating habits and increasing physical activity play a vital role in preventing obesity. Recommendations for adults include:

  • Keep a food diary of what you ate, where you ate, and how you were feeling before and after you ate.

  • Eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily. A vegetable serving is one cup of raw vegetables or one-half cup of cooked vegetables or vegetable juice. A fruit serving is one piece of small to medium fresh fruit, one-half cup of canned or fresh fruit or fruit juice, or one-fourth cup of dried fruit.

  • Choose whole grain foods, such as brown rice and whole wheat bread. Avoid highly processed foods made with refined white sugar, flour, and saturated fat.

  • Weigh and measure food in order to be able to learn correct portion sizes. For example, a 3-ounce serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards. Avoid supersized menu items.

  • Balance the food "checkbook." If you eat more calories than you burn you will gain weight. Weigh yourself on a weekly basis.

  • Avoid foods that are high in "energy density," or that have a lot of calories in a small amount of food. For example, an average cheeseburger with and order of fries can have as much as 1,000 calories and 30 or more grams of fat. By ordering a grilled chicken sandwich or a plain hamburger and a small salad with low-fat dressing, you can avoid hundreds of calories and eliminate much of the fat intake. For dessert, have a serving of fruit, yogurt, a small piece of angel food cake, or apiece of dark chocolate instead of frosted cake, ice cream, or pie.

  • Simply reducing portion sizes and using a smaller plate can help you lose weight.

  • Aim for an average of 40 minutes or more of moderate to intense physical activity 3 to 4 days each week. Examples of moderate intensity exercise are walking a 15-minute mile, or weeding and hoeing a garden. Running or playing singles tennis are examples of more intense activities.

  • Look for ways to get even 10 or 15 minutes of some type of activity during the day, such as walking around the block or up and down a few flights of stairs.