What Are the Keys to Preventing Childhood Obesity?

Preventing childhood obesity is becoming increasingly relevant in today's society. Doing so involves controlling children's habits.
What Are the Keys to Preventing Childhood Obesity?

Last update: 26 March, 2023

The World Health Organization considers obesity a global epidemic that strikes at any age. As of 2018, some 40 million children under the age of 5 and another 338 million between the ages of 5 and 19 worldwide were overweight. However, as alarming as the figures are, preventing childhood obesity by applying key habits has become the focus of attention of numerous health organizations.

Some recommendations for preventing childhood obesity include adopting certain habits of personal, family, and social change from an early age. This way, we seek to prevent our children from becoming obese. Keep reading and help lower the statistics while your children grow up healthy.

Discover the fundamental habits for preventing childhood obesity

We know that excess weight and obesity are risk factors for the development of chronic diseases. Among them, we can mention cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, among others. Therefore, preventing childhood obesity by internalizing certain habits is essential for a healthy future.

The recommendations are based on the consensus of different pediatric, nutrition, and obesity societies. They were published in the journal Anales de Pediatría Continuada and by the American Academy of Pediatrics (2015). These are based on 3 critical stages of childhood obesity: The first year of age, from 2 to 6 years old, and adolescence.

Promote breastfeeding

Through breast milk, babies get the necessary nutrients to maintain optimal growth. Ideally, it should be exclusive until 6 months of age and then extended to 2 years of age, according to the World Health Organization. In addition, a study cited in the journal Pediatrics shows that there is a negative correlation between long-term breastfeeding and the later onset of obesity.

Breastfeeding should be the baby’s exclusive food until 6 months of age. In addition to providing all the necessary nutrients for the little one, it helps prevent childhood obesity.

Education regarding bottle feeding

Knowing how to choose the starting formula and prepare the bottle correctly also helps prevent childhood obesity. The volume of milk and concentration should be indicated by a pediatrician. It’s a mistake to use this product to soothe the baby or to induce sleep. In addition, sugar, honey, or any other sweetener shouldn’t be used in the nipple, as it can create sweet taste preferences from an early age.

Introduce complementary feeding properly

It’s important to introduce complementary feeding to infants between 4 and 6 months of age. As recommended by the USDA Food Guide 2020-2025, the diet should be varied and include all food groups.

Grains, proteins, vegetables, fruits, olive oil, legumes, and fish should be introduced progressively. In this way, the child will identify from the first months with balanced and healthy foods.

Reduce the consumption of foods that are high in fat

From 2 years of age, it’s best to reduce the intake of saturated and trans fat. The aim is to avoid the possible excess weight corresponding to the second critical stage of childhood obesity. Therefore, the consumption of milk and whole milk derivatives, ice cream, pastries, sausages, pre-fried and precooked foods, and margarine, among others, should be avoided. In addition, to ensure calcium intake, skimmed dairy products are recommended.

Encourage the consumption of complex carbohydrates

Parents should include in the diet those foods that contain carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (GI). This slows down the absorption rate of sugars, which, by remaining in the blood for longer, reduces the sensation of hunger. These include whole grains, most vegetables, legumes, and a good number of fruits, such as strawberries, oranges, tangerines, avocados, and blueberries, among others.

On the other hand, it’s important to avoid soft drinks, sugary drinks, ultra-processed foods, pastries, and cakes. Otherwise, their sugars reach the blood and are used very quickly, which stimulates the consumption of foods that favor childhood obesity.

Promote greater physical activity

There are several factors that lead to sedentary behaviors in children. Among these, the technification of homes and buildings, the massive use of mechanized transport, and, above all, more time devoted to information technologies (ICT), such as television, video games, internet, and mobile telephones.

The journal Physiology & Behavior warns that television has a negative influence on obesity, emphasizing that it’s the sedentary activity in which children spend most of their time and, furthermore, it promotes the consumption of caloric food and encourages mindless eating. Therefore, as a preventive measure for childhood obesity, it’s important to lead a more active life with less time devoted to television and other ICT.

A preteen stretching for a race.
Sports, physical activities, household chores, and active games are the new paradigms against childhood obesity.

Promote healthy eating habits

From 3 to 4 years old, children begin to adopt or imitate eating habits. Therefore, it’s important that everyone in the family adopts a healthy eating style. The best option is similar to the traditional Mediterranean diet, as some studies have shown good results in preventing childhood obesity and excess weight.

Some examples of healthy foods are olive oil, whole grains, assorted vegetables, fresh and whole fruits, nuts, legumes, and minimally processed vegetables.

5 to 6 servings of whole fruits a day will be enough for children. The Spanish Association of Pediatrics recommends less than one glass (3/4) of natural juice for children under 6 years of age and, for children under 18, no more than 2 glasses a day. Cheeses and yogurts should be low-fat. In the case of meats, white meats should be consumed at least 3 to 4 times a week, while red meats are recommended a few times a month.

Have orderly meal times

Another key to preventing childhood obesity is to establish orderly meal times. There should be at least 3 main meals and two snacks to avoid excessive snacking throughout the day. It’s also recommended that snacks be healthy in order to complement nutritional requirements.

Eating as a family

It’s important that meals are shared with the family, as this is the right time to educate by example. Furthermore, when you eat, you should share socially and not watch TV or any other ICT.

A problem that can be solved in the context of the family

Don’t forget that your child’s pediatrician is the first health professional to control the general health, weight, and other body measurements of the child. In addition, if the child is overweight, a nutritionist should be consulted. Just the same, you already know that the keys to preventing childhood obesity are to modify sedentary habits and inappropriate eating behaviors for behaviors that generate a healthier lifestyle.

For example, adopting healthy diets, increasing physical activity, reducing the amount of time in front of screens, and practicing sports, among others, are key. We must assume that childhood obesity is a family problem and we must all face it together!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.