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Preventing Childhood Obesity Recommendations

Too Little Too Late for Too Many Overweight Kids?


Updated January 26, 2008

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The topic of obesity, in both kids and adults, is often in the news, but it shouldn't be news to anyone that more people than ever are overweight.

Among adults in the United States, two-thirds are overweight, and 30.5 percent are obese.

A little more surprising is that, although being overweight has been increasing in kids too, only 15.3 percent of 6- 11-year-old children and 15.5 percent of 12- 19-year-old adolescents were overweight in 2000. Although 15 percent is a lot, at least it isn't as high as the two-thirds of adults who are overweight.

Hopefully that means that some intervention can be made so that more of these kids don't become overweight adults, and that is the goal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement, Prevention of Pediatric Overweight and Obesity.

One of the main recommendations of this policy statement is that pediatricians should 'calculate and plot BMI once a year in all children and adolescents' and then use a 'change in BMI to identify rate of excessive weight gain relative to linear growth'.

On the surface, that may not seem very helpful, after all, do you really need to know a child's body mass index to know if they are overweight or not?

Of course not.

Knowing a child's BMI can help you find the kids who are at risk of becoming overweight though. In addition to the 15% of kids who are overweight, another 15 % of kids have a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile and are at risk of becoming overweight. Early identification of these children can help pediatricians to:

  • promote healthy eating patterns by offering nutritious snacks, such as vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy foods, and whole grains; encouraging children's autonomy in self-regulation of food intake and setting appropriate limits on choices; and modeling healthy food choices
  • routinely promote physical activity, including unstructured play at home, in school, in child care settings, and throughout the community, and
  • recommend limitation of television and video time to a maximum of 2 hours per day
These efforts to 'support a healthful lifestyle for all children, including proper diet and adequate opportunity for regular physical activity' may help more kids to get to a healthy weight and avoid becoming overweight.

Working with schools 'to decrease the availability of foods and beverages with little nutritional value and to decrease the dependence on vending machines, snack bars, and school stores for school revenue' and to promote regular 'physical education programs that emphasize and model learning of daily activities for personal fitness' are other important parts of this new policy.

Showing that it is never too early to start, the AAP also recommends that pediatricians 'encourage, support, and protect breastfeeding' as the longer you breastfeed, the less likely that your child will become overweight later in childhood.

While it may seem like this policy statement doesn't go far enough in helping pediatricians or parents in preventing obesity, just getting more people thinking about the problem is a very important first step in getting kids to a more healthy weight.

What can you do as a parent?

  • schedule an appointment with your pediatrician if you think your child is becoming overweight
  • ask about your child's bmi and whether he or she is overweight or at risk of becoming overweight at your child's yearly well child exams
  • encourage your child (and the whole family) to have healthy eating habits and regular physical activity

BMI Resources

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