Obesity in children has attained epidemic proportions all over the world. You as a parent, should know how to prevent childhood obesity to keep your children free from its health complications, which can put your child at risk of morbidity and premature death in early adulthood.

According to the Childhood Obesity Foundation,

As of 2019, it is estimated that over 150 million children in the world are obese and that this will increase to 206 million by 2025. Without intervention, overweight infants and young children will likely continue to be overweight during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.”

Why prevent childhood obesity?

This becomes a matter of great concern for parents all over the world for the simple reason that childhood obesity exposes your child to a host of social and health complications.

The social complications have a profound effect on the mental setup of the child, which greatly increases his risk of slipping into mental stress, low self-esteem, anxiety, and even depression. This has a profound impact on his academic performance.

Healthwise, the risks are even greater with the child or adolescent being prone to suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiac problems, diabetes, and asthma later in life.

Besides these childhood problems, the obese child usually grows up to become an obese adult, which again carries several dangerous risks and a high probability of premature death.

Having established the harm that obesity carries, it becomes imperative as a parent to see that you take the necessary steps to prevent your child from becoming obese.

There are several reasons why a child or an adolescent becomes obese. You should study them and take corrective action.

The reason for a child’s obesity could be genetic, medical, eating or overeating the wrong types of foods, and no or very little physical activity. Of these, medical and genetic causes account for very few cases. But, they should be ruled out through a consultation with a pediatrician.

How to prevent childhood obesity?

What you can handle at home is incorporating the right eating habits and making sure your child or teenager engages in at least an hour of physical activity. This alone will prevent the child from becoming overweight and obese.

Preventing childhood obesity involves a sustained effort from the parents to gently develop in the child a liking for the right type of foods and to engage in physical activity for about an hour every day.

Obesity in children and adolescents is a medical condition and not just an excess weight problem. Therefore, as per age, to prevent your child from gaining unnecessary weight, you have to include foods for optimal growth and development and suitable physical activity.

Feeding the baby and child with the right food during infancy

There are three points to observe in feeding an infant. Parents are to blame for their children becoming overweight and obese because of improper infant feeding and activity methods. They should exercise constraints when feeding the baby and child. Love can be shown in other ways.

  • Firstly, the newborn should be exclusively breastfed till the age of 6 months. In addition to its nutritive value and health benefits, breast milk may help in preventing obesity.
  • Secondly, after six months, along with breastfeeding start formula feeding. It is important not to overfeed the baby and give only the appropriate quantity. Your pediatrician will advise you on the quantity and timings of the feed. It can differ from infant to infant.
  • Thirdly, it is also important not to start solid foods early (before six months) because it increases the risk of obesity in the child during childhood and later in life.
  • Fourthly, avoid giving sugar-sweetened beverages.

Proper feeding during childhood and adolescence age

As the baby grows to become a child and later an adolescent, he starts eating the same foods as an adult.

As the baby grows up to become a child, it will emulate you, the parent. You should, therefore, as a parent stick to good eating habits, proper foods, and regular physical activity.

A detailed list of foods to eat and avoid is explained in the post, which describes how to treat childhood obesity. In brief, these are the foods that you should feed your child.

  • Whole grains and whole-grain products such as whole-grain bread and cereals
  • Skim or low-fat milk and its products
  • Avoid bakery products. Use whole bread
  • Allow for good portions of vegetables and fruits
  • Chicken and turkey without skin
  • Eating fish twice or thrice a week will help to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid red meat or eat sparingly
  • Avoid fried foods and fast food.
  • Avoid aerated  drinks and sweetened beverages
  • Encourage the child to drink adequate water throughout the day

Encourage physical activity

Every effort should be made by the parent to keep the child physically active. This helps to burn calories and prevent any unnecessary weight gain. This is a very important step to prevent childhood obesity in your offsprings.

The physical activity of the child will vary as he grows up and age increases. The health benefits of a physically active lifestyle in childhood are unquestionable with benefits accruing to the cardiovascular system, and musculoskeletal system, along with psychological, social, and cognitive improvements.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition recommend

“that children and adolescents ages 6 to 17 years do 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily”.

The Guidelines further add that

“regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity improves the cognitive functions of memory, executive function, processing speed, attention, and academic performance for these children”.  

  • Pre-school children (aged 3 to 5 years) should be encouraged to participate in activities such as throw ball or bicycle and tricycle riding. Swimming is an excellent choice and which children enjoy.
  • As an adolescent, your child should get at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity every day. There are vast varieties of choices to indulge in. Examples include brisk walking, cycling, swimming, running, jumping rope, and playing basketball.
  • As a teenager, he should be encouraged to participate in games such as football and hockey, which exercise the body. It is important for the parent to find out the liking of the boy or girl and accordingly encourage him. Thirty to sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity will do your prodigy a lot of good.

TV, computer-viewing time

The main single reason why childhood obesity has become so widespread is the lack of physical activity. This has come about due to the child sitting in front of the television and the computer for hours and eating processed snacks. This has turned him into a couch potato.

Eating and looking at the screen for hours every day have substituted the hours of play and physical activity, which the child previously engaged in. You must limit the child’s screen time to one hour every day

 BMI percentile

To find out if your child has a healthy weight, you should know how to find out the BMI in children. This will tell you if your child carries a healthy weight or not. BMI is the measure of body fat in relation to the height of the individual. In children, the BMI percentile is the best way to measure the child’s body fat status.

The BMI percentile compares your child’s BMI with other children of the same age and gender. Children with a BMI in the 85th percentile and above are classified as being overweight or obese.

You could use CDC’s BMI percentile calculator to find out the body fat status of your child or teen (2 to 19 years).