Obesity is a common health issue that is defined by having a high percentage of body fat. A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher is an indicator of obesity.
Over the last few decades, obesity has become a considerable health problem. In fact, it’s now considered to be an epidemic in the United States.
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 93.3 million adults (39.8 percent) and 13.7 million children and teens (18.5 percent) in the United States are obese.
Despite the rising percentages, there are plenty of ways to prevent obesity in both kids and adults. Here we’ll explore both, as well as how far we’ve come in preventing obesity.
Obesity prevention begins at a young age. It’s important to help young people maintain a healthy weight without focusing on the scale.
Breastfeed infants, when possible
One 2014 analysis of 25 studies found that breastfeeding was associated with a reduced risk of childhood obesity. However, studies are mixed when it comes to the role of breastfeeding in obesity prevention, and more research is needed.
Feed growing children appropriate portion sizes
The American Academy of Pediatrics explains that toddlers don’t require huge amounts of food. From ages 1 to 3, every inch of height should equate to roughly 40 calories of food intake.
Encourage older children to learn what various portion sizes look like.
Build early relationships with healthy foods
Encourage your child to try a variety of different fruits, vegetables, and proteins from an early age. As they grow older, they may be more likely to incorporate these healthy foods into their own diet.
Eat healthy foods as a family
Changing eating habits as a family allows children to experience healthy eating early on. This will make it easier for them to continue following good eating habits as they grow into adults.
Encourage eating slowly and only when hungry
Overeating can happen if you eat when you’re not hungry. This excess fuel eventually becomes stored as body fat and can lead to obesity. Encourage your child to eat only when they feel hungry and to chew more slowly for better digestion.
Limit unhealthy foods in the household
If you bring unhealthy foods into the household, your child may be more likely to eat them. Try to stock the fridge and pantry with healthy foods, and allow less-healthy snacks as a rare “treat” instead.
Incorporate fun and exciting physical activity
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that kids and teens get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Fun physical activities include games, sports, gym class, or even outdoor chores.
Limit your child’s screen time
More time spent sitting in front of a screen means less time for physical activity and good sleep. Because exercise and sleep play a role in a healthy weight, it’s important to encourage those activities over computer or TV time.
Make sure everyone is getting enough sleep
Research suggests that both children and adults who don’t get enough sleep may end up weighing more. Healthy sleep habits from the National Sleep Foundation include a sleep schedule, a bedtime ritual, and a comfortable pillow and mattress.
Know what your child is eating outside of the home
Whether in school, with friends, or while being babysat, children have plenty of opportunities to eat unhealthy foods outside of the home. You can’t always be there to monitor what they eat, but asking questions can help.
Many of these obesity prevention tips are the same for losing or maintaining a healthy weight. The bottom is line that eating a healthy diet and getting more physical activity can help prevent obesity.
Consume less “bad” fat and more “good” fat
Contrary to the belief behind the low-fat diet craze of the ’90s, not all fat is bad. A 2017 study published in the Nutrition Journal showed that intake of healthy dietary fats, such as polyunsaturated fats, can improve cholesterol levels and reduce obesity risk.
Consume less processed and sugary foods
According to a 2016 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,consumption of processed and ultra-processed foods is linked to a higher risk of obesity. Many processed foods are high in fat, salt, and sugar, which can encourage overeating.
Eat more servings of vegetables and fruits
The daily recommendation for fruit and vegetable intake is five to nine servings per day for adults. Filling your plate with veggies and fruit can help keep calories reasonable and reduce the risk of overeating.
Eat plenty of dietary fiber
Studies continue to show that dietary fiber plays a role in weight maintenance. One 2012 trial found that people who took a fiber complex supplement three times daily for 12 weeks lost up to 5 percent of their body weight.
Focus on eating low–glycemic index foods
The glycemic index (GI) is a scale used to measure how quickly a food item will raise your blood sugar. Focusing on low-GI foods can help keep blood sugar levels steadier. Keeping your blood glucose levels steady can help with weight management.
Get the family involved in your journey
Social support isn’t just for children and teens — it’s important for adults to feel supported too. Whether cooking with family or going on walks with friends, getting people involved can help to encourage a healthy lifestyle.
Engage in regular aerobic activity
Incorporating regular physical activity into your schedule is important for maintaining or losing weight, among other benefits. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week.
Incorporate a weight training regimen
Weight training is just as important to weight maintenance as aerobic activity. In addition to weekly aerobic activity, the WHO recommends weight training that involves all your major muscles at least two times per week.
Focus on reducing daily stress
Stress can have many effects on the body and mind. A 2012 study suggests that stress may trigger a brain response that changes eating patterns and leads to cravings for high-calorie foods. Eating too many high-calorie foods can contribute to the development of obesity.
Learn how to food budget and meal prep
It’s much easier to grocery shop for healthy foods when you have a plan. Creating a food budget and list for your shopping trips can help avoid temptations for unhealthy foods. In addition, prepping meals can allow you to have ready-to-go healthy meals.
Preventing obesity plays an important role in good health. Obesity is associated with a long list of chronic health conditions, many of which become more difficult to treat over time. These conditions include:
- metabolic syndrome
- type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- high triglycerides and low “good” cholesterol
- heart disease
- sleep apnea
- gallbladder disease
- sexual health issues
- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- mental health conditions
By focusing on obesity prevention and lifestyle changes, it may be possible to slow or prevent the development of these diseases.
Although the research on obesity prevention strategies is limited in the United States, international studies have been able to suggest some answers.
A 2012 study from Australia looked at the role of home-based nurses in that country on the weight management of children up to age 2. The nurses visited babies a total of eight times after birth and encouraged the mothers to incorporate healthy practices. The researchers found that the average BMI of the children in this group was significantly lower than those of the control group (babies who didn’t get the eight nurse visits).
However, a 2018 trial in Sweden looked at the effectiveness of a smartphone app to educate young children on healthy eating and physical activity. The researchers discovered no significant differences in BMI and other health markers between the two groups after a year.
A 2008 review in the International Journal of Obesity looked at 19 different school-based studies to determine what could be effective methods for obesity management. The researchers found that both dietary changes and reduced TV time resulted in significant weight loss. They also found that family support helped encourage weight loss in children.
Preventing obesity in adults involves regular physical activity, a decrease in saturated fat intake, a decrease in sugar consumption, and an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption. In addition, family and healthcare professional involvement may help to maintain a healthy weight.
One 2010 review of public health approaches found that there are various ways to influence public policy to encourage methods of obesity prevention: Altering food environments, creating policy-based changes in schools, and supporting medication and other medical strategies are all potential ways to prevent obesity.
However, only some of these methods have proven to be effective, and there are barriers to using these methods.
A healthy weight is important in maintaining good health. Taking steps to prevent obesity in your daily life is a good first step. Even small changes, such as eating more vegetables and visiting the gym a few times a week, can help to prevent obesity.
If you’re interested in a more tailored approach to your diet, a dietitian or nutritionist can provide you with the tools to get started.
Additionally, meeting with a personal trainer or fitness instructor can help you find the physical activities that work best for your body.