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A Healthy Weight for Children and Adolescents

Healthy weight is a struggle for children and adolescents too

The majority of American adults are struggling with excess weight today, but this struggle is not restricted to adults, recent data shows that more children, ages 2-19, are also finding it difficult to maintain a healthy weight (1).

The most recent data from the U.S. government shows a steady increase in obesity trends in our youth from 1971-2020, with greater than 19% of youth aged 2-19 years old now struggling with obesity, affecting more than 14 million children and adolescents (1) (8).

According to the Mayo Clinic, weight gain in children is of particular concern because it sets the stage for serious health problems like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression (2).

What’s causing weight gain in our children?

Many factors play a role in weight gain, some research suggests that there may be a genetic component, but the main driving factors in weight gain are lifestyle issues, the most important being the food we eat and the movement we choose each day, and this is true for children as well (2).

The consumption of ultra-processed foods like chicken nuggets, breakfast cereal, chips, and sweets is linked to a higher risk for conditions like obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and cancer (3) (4). You can read more about the processed food and disease connection here.

There have been several mechanisms proposed to explain the relationship between the consumption of ultra-processed food and obesity. These products tend to be higher in calories, unhealthy fats, and added sugar, and lower in nutrients (5). The refined carbohydrates that many ultra-processed foods contain can impact the hormone insulin, and promote fat storage (5) (6).

Children today tend to be more sedentary, as they spend more time on devices playing video games, and watching videos or television than they do playing outside at activities that move the body like tag, dodgeball, or hide-and-seek (5).

Together, a diet high in ultra-processed food and a lack of movement each day has contributed to the struggle many of our children are having with excess weight today.

Promoting healthy habits

According to research, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) states that it is easier and more effective to establish healthy behaviors in our children than it would be for them to make the changes as adults (7).

Parents and caregivers play important roles in helping children build healthy habits that can optimize their weight and health.

The first step is to consume healthy food and drinks with your children and explain why you are choosing to eat healthy whole foods like cinnamon apples in yogurt for dessert instead of cookies or ice cream (9).

Children need physical activity every day, at least 60 minutes (9). Depending on the age of the child, some activities can include jumping rope, bike rides, basketball with a friend, or a game of neighborhood kickball.

Healthy habits lead to healthy bodies is an axiom that is true at any age.

You can find more about the best diet for kids here.

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