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A mother and two daughters playing in the yard, with the mother spraying the girls with a water hose.

Obesity is something that affects a countless number of adults in the United States. However, approximately 1 in 5 American children also have obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, total medical costs for children with severe obesity are $909 higher than children with a healthy weight. Also, children with obesity have a much higher risk of developing obesity as an adult.

Factors that impact obesity include genetics, sleep routines, physical activity levels, eating patterns, and access to health care. There is not one simple solution to combating obesity. In fact, there are many ways that parents, guardians, and caregivers can help children maintain a healthy weight and establish healthy habits that will benefit them throughout adulthood.

Model a Healthy Eating Pattern

Offer a variety of foods throughout the day. The best foods often have little-to-no added sodium. Half of a child’s plate, as well as your own, should contain fruits and vegetables. Children often learn by watching adults, so they are more inclined to eat fruits and vegetables if they see them on your plate. Also, help them rethink what they drink by replacing sugary drinks with water, 100 percent juice, or plain, low-fat milk.

Move More as a Family

Children ages 3 to 5 should be physically active throughout the day. Children ages 6 to 17 need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Walking the family pet, riding bicycles, and playing games in the yard are great ways to incorporate physical activity in the family routine.

Set Consistent Sleep Routines

Children who do not get enough sleep are often at risk for unhealthy weight gain. Researchers are still trying to connect how sleep is linked to weight gain. One reason might be that a lack of sleep can cause a child to be less energetic, which can result in less physical activity and an increased food intake. Preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day, including naps. Children 6 to 12 years old need between 9 and 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Young people 13 to 17 years old need 8 to 10 hours of sleep.

Replace Screen Time with Family Time

Too much screen time can lead to poor sleep, weight gain, lower grades in school, and poor mental health. Reducing screen time can free up time for family activities and can remove cues to eat unhealthy food.

Support Obesity Prevention in Early Care and Education

High-quality early care and education (ECE) programs can have a positive impact on a child’s social-emotional wellbeing, educational achievement, health, and socioeconomic outcomes later in life. Look for ECE settings that support healthy infant feeding, healthy eating, physical activity, and screen-time limits.

Find a Family Healthy Weight Program

Family health weight programs are comprehensive, family-based lifestyle change programs that help children who are overweight or who have obesity make progress toward a healthier weight through positive behavior changes. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, talk with their health care provider. They can assess the health risks related to excess weight and may refer you to a family healthy weight program.

More Resources

Additional information on preventing childhood obesity can be found online at cdc.gov. There is also the USDA National Hunger Clearinghouse, which provides information on food assistance as well as nutrition and social services. Contact their hotline by calling 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-877-8-HAMBRE for Spanish). The hotline is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern Time.