Preventing Obesity in Children, Teens, and Adults

Facts about obesity

Obesity is a long-term (chronic) disease. It affects increasing numbers of children, teens, and adults. Obesity rates among children in the U.S. have doubled since 1980. They have tripled for teens. About 19 out of 100 children ages 2 to 19 are obese. More than 7 out of 20 adults are obese.

Healthcare providers are seeing more of these obesity-related problems in children and teens:

  • Type 2 diabetes starting at a younger age

  • Heart and blood vessel disease

  • Obesity-related depression and social isolation

The longer a person is obese, the more he or she is at risk for problems. Many chronic diseases are linked with obesity. Obesity may be hard to treat. That's why prevention is very important.

Preventing obesity in children is vital. This is because childhood obesity is more likely to last into adulthood. An obese person has a high risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.


Breastfed babies are less likely to become overweight. And the longer babies are breastfed, the less likely they are to be overweight as they grow older. But many babies fed with formula do grow up to be adults of healthy weight. If your child was not breastfed, it doesn't mean that they can't have a healthy weight. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider if you have concerns.

Children and teens

Young people can become obese from poor eating habits and lack of physical activity. Genes can also affect a child's weight.

To help prevent obesity in children and teens:

  • Don’t just focus on a child's weight. Work to change family eating habits and activity levels over time.

  • Be a role model. Parents who eat healthy foods and do physical activity set an example. A child is more likely to do the same.

  • Encourage physical activity. A child should have 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. More than 60 minutes of activity may help with weight loss and keeping a healthy weight.

  • Reduce screen time. Limit time in front of the TV and computer to less than 1 to 2 hours a day.

  • Encourage children to eat only when hungry. Tell them to eat slowly.

  • Don't use food as a reward. Don't withhold food as a punishment.

  • Keep the fridge and pantry stocked with healthy foods and drinks. These include fat-free or low-fat milk, fresh fruit, and vegetables. Don't buy soft drinks or snacks that are high in sugar and fat.

  • Serve at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

  • Encourage your child to drink water instead of drinks with added sugar. These include soft drinks, sports drinks, and fruit juice drinks.


Good eating habits and physical activity can help prevent obesity. Tips for adults include:

  • Keep a food diary. Write down what you eat, where you eat, and how you feel before and after you eat.

  • Eat 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. A vegetable serving is 1 cup of raw vegetables or 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables or vegetable juice. A fruit serving is 1 piece of small to medium fresh fruit, 1/2 cup of canned or fresh fruit or fruit juice, or 1/4 cup of dried fruit.

  • Choose whole-grain foods. These include brown rice and whole-wheat bread. Don't eat foods made with refined white sugar, flour, high-fructose corn syrup, or saturated fat.

  • Weigh and measure food. This is so you can learn healthy portion sizes. For example, a 3-ounce serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards. Don't order supersized menu items.

  • Learn to read food nutrition labels and use them. Keep the number of portions you are really eating in mind.

  • Balance your food "checkbook." If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. Weigh yourself each week.

  • Don't eat foods that are high in "energy density." This means foods that have a lot of calories in small amounts. For example, a cheeseburger with fries can have as much as 1,000 calories and 30 or more grams of fat. Order a grilled chicken sandwich or a plain hamburger and a small salad with low-fat dressing instead. You can avoid hundreds of calories and lower your fat intake. For dessert, have a serving of fruit, yogurt, a small piece of angel food cake, or a piece of dark chocolate.

  • Reduce portion sizes. Using a smaller plate can help you do this.

  • Exercise each week. Aim for 60 to 90 minutes or more of moderate to intense physical activity 3 to 4 days each week. Examples of moderate-intensity exercise are walking a 15-minute mile, or weeding and hoeing a garden. Running or playing singles tennis are examples of more intense activities.

  • Build activity into your day. Look for ways to get 10 or 15 minutes of some type of activity during the day. Walk around the block. Walk up and down a few flights of stairs.

Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2020
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