Childhood obesity has become an epidemic in the United States. According the CDC, the percentage of U.S. children with obesity has more than tripled since the 1970’s. Today, around 1 in 5 school-aged children are obese. (1) Childhood obesity causes include large portion sizes, the over-consumption of processed sugar, and lack of physical activity. To stop the epidemic from becoming worse, it’s important to implement childhood obesity prevention techniques. Childhood obesity treatments and prevention include teaching children to consume healthy food, limiting TV time and making sure that children are active.

Childhood Obesity Causes

1. Portion Sizes

Portion size determines the amount of food that you consume in one sitting. If you have a bigger portion in front of you, you’re more likely to eat more food than your body really needs. Supersized meals at fast food restaurants are the perfect example of unbalanced portion sizes. Research has shown that obesity rates have increased parallel to increasing portion sizes, suggesting that too-large portion sizes are among childhood obesity causes. (2)

2. School Lunch

If your child buys their lunch at school, they have the opportunity to choose foods and snacks that are loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients. Most school have chips, pop, candy, cookies and pastries available at lunch time. While school lunches have undergone some changes in the past few years, packing your child’s lunch can help ensure that they are eating a healthy meal.

3. Sugar

One of the leading childhood obesity causes is the consumption of sugar and processed foods. Research has shown that children today are eating more high-calorie, nutrient-deficient foods, instead of consuming foods with vitamins and minerals. Studies have linked processed sugar to a staggering amount of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity. (3)

4. Absence of Healthy Fats

A diet rich in healthy fats is linked to a lower risk of obesity. The public was told for years to avoid fats, because they would cause weight gain. In more recent years, researchers found out that simply wasn’t true. Foods that contain healthy fats, like avocados, walnuts and coconut oil, provide the body with important nutrients. Healthy fats are absent in many children’s diets today.

5. Lack of Physical Activity

According to the CDC, only 11% of girls and 24% of boys in high school say they are physically active for at least 60 minutes a day. (4) The majority of children and adolescents are falling short of meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines. One of the major childhood obesity causes is inactivity.

6. Stress

Obese children face psychological issues, including stress, anxiety and depression. Children with obesity are often bullied because of their weight, which can lead to more feelings of anxiety and depression. The overwhelming negative feelings can cause children to look to food for comfort, which inevitably leads to more weight gain. (5)

Childhood Obesity Prevention and Treatments

1. Eat a Healthy Breakfast

When it comes to childhood obesity prevention, the best place to start is to ensure that your child is eating a healthy breakfast. Studies have shown that skipping breakfast can lead to weight gain. A healthy breakfast will help provide your child’s body with the fuel they need to start the day. (6)

2. Pack School Lunches

An important part of childhood obesity treatments is to make sure your child is packing a healthy lunch, instead of buying school lunches. A 2009 study found that children who brought their lunch from home 5 days per week “ate fast food on fewer occasions, consumed fewer servings of soda, fried potatoes and high-sugar foods, and ate more fruits and vegetables compared with adolescents who never brought their lunch to school.” (7)

3. Cook Meals at Home

Research has shown that most families spend about 40% of their food dollars on eating out. (8) Most restaurants serve portion sizes that are much too large and food that is loaded with sugar, calories and artificial ingredients. Preparing healthy meals at home can work as part of a childhood obesity treatment plan to help your child lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

4. Make Time for Physical Activity

Exercise can help boost your child’s self-esteem and work as a childhood obesity treatment. Encourage your child to join a sports team at school, or spend time playing in the yard. Sign your child up for swim lessons or plan family hikes or bike rides. Staying active will help your child reach his weight loss goals. (9)

5. Limit TV Time

Too much TV time means too little exercise time. The more time your child spends in front of the TV or video game console, the more sedentary their lifestyle is. Limiting your child’s TV time is a childhood obesity prevention tool. It will force your child to find other ways to entertain himself, such as playing outside.

6. Lead by Example

Perhaps the most important part of childhood obesity treatment and childhood obesity prevention is to lead by example. You child will pay close attention to your behaviors and learn to mimic them. To set a good example for your child, make sure you are eating healthy foods and stay active!