How Do You Prevent Childhood Obesity?

Last Editorial Review: 9/5/2017

Ask the experts

I'm pregnant and have a family history of obesity. How can I prevent my child from becoming obese?

Doctor's response

I am so happy to receive this question, because I consider obesity in infancy and childhood to be the leading health problem today! The statistics are mind-boggling: A report from the Institute of Medicine this year found that one-third of American children and youths are either obese or at risk for obesity. Over the past 30 years, the obesity rate has nearly tripled for children 2-5 years old (from 5% to 14%) and youths 12-19 years old (5% to 17%), and it has nearly quadrupled for children 6-11 years old! We now know that infants are at greater risk for obesity if their moms gain excessive weight during pregnancy. The number of overweight infants younger than 6 months has increased by 74% between 1980 and 2001. And overweight infants are not likely to outgrow their "baby fat." They are more likely to become overweight children and adults. And all of this excess weight puts our infants, children, and adolescents at hugely greater risk for a multitude of conditions, including high blood pressure, heart and blood vessel diseases, and type-2 diabetes (a condition that I was taught in medical school "only happens to adults" but is now the leading type of diabetes in childhood).

The efforts to stop this snowballing catastrophe must start from the moment of conception, with better nutritional counseling for pregnant mothers, and continue with your infant's very first well-checkup. Babies (like all of the rest of us!) don't need apple juice to satisfy thirst. Good old water will do. And your doctor must carefully monitor your baby's and child's weight percentiles to let you know early on if his weight is getting out of line with his height. Early involvement in regular physical activity and limiting TV, computer, and video-game usage cannot start too soon. And get regular physical activity as a family. I know it's tough in our busy lives, but when made a priority, it can be done!

You have such a short time with your infant and child. There can be no other priority in your lives that is more important!

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Medically reviewed by Margaret A. Walsh, MD; Board Certification in Pediatrics


"Definition; epidemiology; and etiology of obesity in children and adolescents"