How can parents prevent their child from becoming obese?

In children, there are various health risks associated with being overweight or obese that impact the physical, mental and emotional health and wellness of the child and the adult they will become. For the child, being overweight increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and pre-diabetes as well as asthma, musculoskeletal disorders, sleep, social problems and low self-esteem just to mention a few. Overweight/obese children often grow to become obese adults increasing their risk of heart disease, certain types of cancers, type II diabetes, and arthritis.

Although there have been some improvements over the last few years, obesity continues to be a problem for both adults and children, including preschoolers. In the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years”. The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity reported that “the number of overweight or obese infants and young children (aged 0 to 5 years) increased from 32 million globally in 1990 to 42 million in 2013” (WHO). The primary factors that have contributed to this increase are:

  • increase in the amount of sugary, processed and fast foods consumed
  • too much sedentary time watching TV or using technological devices
  • not enough exercise and physical activity
  • lack of education at home and at school about food and nutrition
  • limited cooking skills
  • increased portion sizes
  • advertising and marketing aimed at kids
  • parent perception on recognising that their child is overweight

So here are 6 tips to help parents prevent their child from becoming obese:

1. Lead by Example

It is critical that parents demonstrate that they too are committed to a healthy lifestyle. Kids are sponges and they model what they see. Moreover, crucial to understanding the addictive and deleterious nature of sugary foods and drinks is not to use food for comfort: this should be discouraged.

2. Family Focus & Positive Reinforcement

Evaluate the family’s lifestyle and then involve everyone with positive attitudes in regard to body image, healthy eating behaviour and emphasis on overall good health. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of body weight, celebrate every goal and achievement with your child as this will reinforce healthy behaviours. Keep track of the progress together and you will help provide a future roadmap of healthy living.

3. Physical Activity

Parents should encourage their children (and themselves) to participate in physical activity and exercise for at least 60 minutes a day. It does not need to be continuous in order to reap the benefits. Walking, cycling, jump ropes, frisbee throwing, swimming, organised sports, dancing and even a little weight training are all easy and great ways to promote fitness.

4. Drink Plenty of Water

Water in critical to many bodily functions and inadequate hydration in both adults and children has serious repercussions on both physical and emotional health including dizziness, cravings and reduced physical and cognitive performance (e.g. sluggishness). The exact amount of water a child should drink depends on his age, size and activity level, but aim to consume at least 7 to 10 glasses (up to 2 litres) every day.

5. Portion Control & Nutritional Education

Don’t supersize anything and serve reasonable portions at meals and for snacks. Involve children in food preparation, selection, and teach your children about food groups and the value of portion size at home so that it will correlate with awareness when they are at school, social events, at a friend’s home, or at a restaurant. A valuable educational and practical resource is The Choose My Plate.

6. Healthy Food Choices

First and foremost, preventing weight gain or losing weight is achieved by either calorie reduction or burning more calories through exercise. Limit sugary foods and beverages, and foods high in saturated fats. Select lean cuts of meat. Watch out for low-fat and fat-free dairy products as often they contain extra sugar to make up for the lack of taste. Offer plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products, and remove temptations from the cupboard and fridge!


CDC (2015). Childhood Obesity Facts.

WHO (2015). Facts and figures on childhood obesity. Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity.

About the Author

Leslie Olsen has a Master’s degree in Health Policy. She is a Published Author, Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Health Coach, Fitness Coaching Specialist and Licensed Massage Therapist. You can contact her and read other articles she has written on LinkedIn.