September is National Childhood Obesity Month, supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity.  According to the CDC, almost one in five American children is affected by obesity.  These children are at a higher risk for asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.  Moreover, children with obesity are more likely to experience bullying, social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem.

Children with obesity are also at higher risk of becoming adults with obesity.  As adults with obesity, they will have a higher risk of many of the major causes of adult mortality, including coronary artery disease, hypertension, stroke, chronic kidney and liver disease as well as many types of cancer.

Research indicates that the roots of childhood obesity can begin very early in life.  According to “Childhood Obesity Requires New Strategies for Prevention,” a Perspective published May 2020 in Advances in Nutrition, the roots of childhood obesity may even take hold in utero.  ASN member Barbara J. Deal et al. offer evidence that both maternal obesity and excessive weight gain during pregnancy correlate with a higher risk of childhood obesity.  As far as prevention, the authors firmly believe, “starting early isn’t an option, it’s essential.”

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Another article published April 2021 in Advances in Nutrition, “Protein Intake from Birth to 2 Years and Obesity Outcomes in Later Childhood and Adolescence: A Systematic Review of Prospective Cohort Studies,” investigated the association of total protein intake during infancy with obesity outcomes in later childhood and adolescence.  Alexandra Stokes et al. found that “overall, higher intakes of total and animal protein during infancy were associated with higher BMI in childhood and adolescence.”

In its efforts to reduce the incidence of childhood obesity, the CDC has published five recommendations parents and caregivers can implement at home:

  • Eat the Rainbow: Very few people get enough fruits and vegetables.  According to the CDC, just 2% of high school students eat enough vegetables, and 7% eat enough fruit.  The CDC therefore recommends helping children “eat the rainbow” by making half of their plates fruits and vegetables to encourage optimal health and healthy weight.

  • Move More: Children who are physically active have stronger muscles and bones and better cardiovascular fitness compared to children who are inactive.  They also typically have lower body fat.  The CDC recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day for children and offers tips to help them move more.

  • Slow Down on Sugar: Children under the age of two should have no added sugar in their diet, whereas children over age two should keep sugars to less than 10% of their daily calories.  A good way to slow down on sugar is by avoiding sugary drinks such as soda, juice beverages, and flavored milk.  Best options for children include water, plain low-fat milk, or 100% fruit juice.

  • Reduce Screen Time: Too much screen time is associated with poor sleep, weight gain, lower grades in school, and poor mental health among children.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends creating a family media plan to help both children and adults find a healthy balance between screen time and other healthy activities.

  • Sleep Well: Inadequate sleep can cause children to eat more and move less.  The CDC recommends that parents and caregivers help children sleep better by encouraging physical activity during the day, removing screens from their bedrooms, and setting a consistent sleep schedule.

ASN supports National Childhood Obesity Month by fostering and disseminating research into the causes and consequences of childhood obesity as well as effective treatment and management strategies.  In addition to the two ASN journal articles mentioned above, we recommend that you peruse a special collection of childhood obesity-related articles curated by the ASN Journals Editors to learn as much as you can about childhood obesity.