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Preventing childhood obesity

After spending some time in Somerville, Mass., reporting on their innovative program to prevent childhood obesity, Need to Know came back with some tips on how to make sure your kids reach adulthood at a healthy weight. Here are five things you need to know to create a healthier environment for you and your family:

1. Protect your home from unhealthy influences.

David Ludwing, MD
Director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children’s Hospital, Boston

The home is one environment over which parents have 100 percent control. If it doesn’t support health, don’t bring it into the home. You can go out and have ice cream, make it a celebration once in a while, but remember that if you bring that gallon of ice cream into the home you’re going to fight a losing battle to control its consumption.  And that applies certainly to junk foods, but also influences that make us make kids sedentary. It’s not having wide screen hi-def TV in every room. Maybe have one TV in an out of the way place, but create an active play station.  Or a place where your kids can turn on some music and dance. Let’s make healthy eating and physical activity easy, convenient and fun and make unhealthful lifestyle in the home much less convenient.

2. Make fun, less healthy food choices the exception, not the rule.

Christina Economos, PhD, Associate Professor
Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy Tufts University

No question, we don’t want to eliminate fun foods or treat foods. They should be part of [a child’s] diet, but a minority, not the majority.  It’s not eliminating treats and it’s not taking choice away. It’s just reducing the number of times they should be presented with unhealthy choices. It’s difficult for a six year-old to make a healthy choice. They are bombarded with advertising and marketing convincing them that they should be consuming these foods that aren’t good for them.

3.  Be an example to your kids — make healthy choices for yourself.

David Ludwing, MD
Director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children’s Hospital, Boston

Parents can engage in modeling. It’s a powerful influence, especially on young children. The idea there is if you do it, your kids will do it. But the opposite is also true.  If you don’t do it, they won’t do it.  The benefit of working in a family context is that everybody benefits, the obese child is less stigmatized, the parents may reduce their cardiovascular disease risk factors, and even a lean child’s sibling is protected against a future of excessive weight gain.

4. Know when to say no.

Christina Economos, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy Tufts University

Be the policymakers in the household. It’s okay to say no. It’s in your child’s best interests to set a policy and stick with it around screen time, around treat time. People wouldn’t question that you don’t want a seven or eight year-old using tobacco. Well they also shouldn’t be consuming junk food all day long, because it will put them at a very high risk for becoming overweight or obese which will compromise their life.

5. Take action in your own community to fight obesity.

Mayor Joe Curtatone
Somerville, Mass.

Don’t wait for the elected official to have a vision.  You carry it.  You drive it.  This is the greatest grass roots effort you can have in your city or town.  And you can get people civically engaged.  It’s about social change.  Much of social change comes from the ground up.


  • Jos3_1999

    Those interesting recommendations are primarily geared to personal behavior. On a community level, I hope that Somerville also encourages safe and healthful walking and biking (such as routes to school), adequate parks and recreation, and the availability of healthy foods in stores.


    Congratulations Chris E, Dr Ludwig , Mayor Curtatone and Need to Know for shedding light on a comprehensive approcah to improving public health. Would encourage other communities interested in improving health to read and utilize the strategic health promotion actions outlined int he World Health Organization’s Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (Visit ) to download a copy. PHIL HABERSTRO NAHF

  • guest

    It is always easy to talk about childhood obesity but in reality it’s a hard thing to do
    Most of my friends said that as long as we have so many Fastfood Restaurants  within reach, we cannot prevent the obesity. Come on, how many Americans really cook at home these days? We are better off going to McDonalds or Burger King or Jack in the Box. It is easy and saves lot of time.

  • Anonymous

    I cook at home every evening.  It saves more time than going to greaseland ever would. (It takes 10 minutes to stir fry some vegetables in a tablespoon or so of olive oil–it takes longer than that for the kid at McDonalds to count change.  It takes 5 minutes total prep time to get some chicken into the oven and when it is in I can be relaxing.)  My children get fast food *maybe* once a year and that is on road trips.  Usually we get food somewhere nicer because my kids prefer a place with “real food.”  My kids were raised eating properly and when they want a snack they don’t ask for processed garbage–they have a natural preference for things like fruits a veg because they haven’t burned their tastebuds on artificial garbage and carbonated liquid candy.  The NUMBER ONE problem is that people have forgotten how to cook real food at home from real ingredients and the don’t realize that the medical bills that will pile up from eating bad food every day will outweigh the temporary inconvenience of cooking.   

  • wayne

    education is the only way we are going to combat obesity,if we can show people the benefits of a healthier lifestyle at an early age,namely through the school systems then we stand a chance of combating obesity

  • wayne

    Nothing will change unless parents realise that they are their kids role models,if they are obese the chances are their kids will also be obese