Fighting Childhood Obesity with Nutrition and Exercise

Obesity is a very real concern for children in the U.S. The latest statistics state that 17 percent of children are obese. Obesity is defined as having excessive body fat. In childhood obesityterms of children, obesity means that a child’s body mass index, or BMI, is over the 95th percentile for children of the same sex and age. This is of great concern, as obesity is the cause of numerous health and emotional problems that can continue to negatively affect the child into adulthood. Problems caused by childhood obesity include sleep apnea and other breathing problems, a risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems, and fatty liver disease, to name a few. Emotionally, children who are obese may suffer from low self-esteem due to teasing and discrimination by others. Without proper intervention, an obese child is likely to become an obese adult. The excess fat that comes with being obese as an adult puts a strain on the human body that can cause problems with the heart, cancer, or diabetes. Parents and caregivers can intervene by taking action as early as possible to help their children lose fat and excess body weight and learn new habits that will help them become fit and healthy adults. There are many of ways to get in the habit of working out, like a low-impact workout on a top elliptical machine.

Why Focus on Nutrition and Physical Activity?

Children are not obese without cause. There are several reasons that this happens. In most cases, the CDC states that childhood obesity is the result of consuming an excess of calories while participating in minimal activity. For some children, genetics and hormones may make them more susceptible to being obese. The best way to combat childhood obesity is to create changes in lifestyle. This means altering the two changeable causes of the condition, which are diet and exercise. Another reason to focus on these two factors is that according to the Mayo Clinic, more extreme treatments, such as surgery or medication, are not recommended for children younger than 13.

Diet and Nutrition

As a part of improving a child’s health through nutritional intake, parents will need to make adjustments to how they feed their children. One of the main ways to do that is to eliminate or reduce the amount of food items that are high in sugar. It is also important to cut high-fat foods and replace them with fats that are good for the human body, such as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Good food choices include whole-grain items and plenty of vegetables and fruits. When choosing vegetables and fruits, select brightly colored items, as they often contain valuable nutrients. For example, orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrots or pumpkins, owe their color to beta-carotene. The health benefits that come from beta-carotene include making the immune system stronger, keeping eyes healthy, and strengthening bones. Anthocyanins are what make fruits and vegetables purple or blue in color. Examples of these foods are blueberries, eggplants, and raisins. Food items that are naturally this color are good for the heart and memory function. Fish, lean meats, nuts, and low-fat milk and other dairy products are all good food choices for obese children.

Just as important as what children are eating is how much they are eating. Food portions have risen significantly, particularly in restaurants. Often, people do not recognize what a proper portion size is. One way to visually control portions is to serve from smaller plates, which gives the illusion of more food. Another method of controlling serving size is to use a method that is referred to as the divided plate. With this method, parents should visualize a plate that has been divided in half. One half of the plate contains vegetables, making it the largest part of the plate. The second half of the plate is divided into halves again. One of these sections should be filled with a protein and the other with a whole-grain starch.

When shopping, parents should make it a habit to look at the labels on food items, particularly the ingredient label and the Nutrition Facts label. These two labels will tell parents what the calorie counts are, what the ingredients are, and which ingredient is the most prevalent. Attitudes toward food must also be adjusted if parents want to combat obesity. Food should never be given to children as a reward, nor should it be used as a comforting tool.


More than ever, children are spending their time seated indoors in front of televisions, video games, and computer screens. This type of behavior has little positive effect on their health and instead contributes greatly to weight gain and obesity. To help combat obesity, limit the amount of time that children can watch television or play sedentary video games. Avoid offering these activities as rewards, and instead introduce fun daily activities that promote physical fitness. Kids should do some form of moderate physical activity for at least 60 minutes daily. If there is insufficient time for a full 60 minutes, integrate exercise or some form of activity 15 minutes at a time, four times a day. These activities may include running, jumping, swinging at the playground, or swimming. Kids who are old enough and enjoy sports may want to participate in their favorite sports activity after school or during the summer months. Parents or caregivers of children may want to join in and turn physical fitness into a family activity. Bicycle-riding, visits to the beach for swimming, and hiking are all forms of exercise that are fun and family-friendly. If an obese child is unaccustomed to exercise, take it slow and start with exercises that are easy to learn and perform. Parents should give their child encouragement, as exercising may be difficult at first and the child may be reluctant to continue. If setting up games for groups of children to play, avoid any that exclude children so that this does not affect their confidence. In addition to being suitable for their body size, activities should also be suitable for their current age.