Six Ways for Children to Fight Obesity

  • Introduction

    A new report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows one in eight children ages two to four is overweight, despite an overall decline in childhood obesity rates in the U.S. during  the past ten years. The CDC says children who are overweight or obese face increased risk for obesity during adolescence and adulthood. While it is unclear if obesity directly causes other conditions, it is often associated with high cholesterol, high blood sugar, asthma and mental health problems. These six small changes to your child’s lifestyle can help them reap the benefits of exercise.  

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    Limit screen time


    kid watching TV

    (Source: Sara Ross, Flickr)


    According to the journal Pediatrics, the amount of time children spends in front of the television or computer can affect their psychological abilities. One study, conducted by researchers at the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, showed children who spent more than two hours per day watching television or using a computer were at increased risk of high levels of psychological difficulties, while children who engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity fared better on psychological assessments. The study also said physical activity does not make up for long hours in front of a screen. Lead researcher Angie S. Page said while physical activity is beneficial, parents should still restrict their children’s television and computer time because of the negative impact screen time alone can have. 


    Keep video games active



    (Source: Sam Webster, Flickr)


    But certain types of video games can help children as much as low- to moderate-intensity exercise, according to The Journal of Pediatrics. Active video-gaming, also known as “exergaming,” includes using console video games that track player movement to control the game, such as Wii or Xbox-Kinect. Children in the study, ages 9-11, participated in 15 minutes each of high-intensity exergaming, low-intensity exergaming and a graded exercise test on a treadmill. Researchers measured the children’s energy expenditure and found that high-intensity exergaming resulted in an energy expenditure equivalent to moderate-intensity exercise, and moderate-intensity exergaming expended energy comparable to low-intensity exercise. It is worth noting, however, that only 15 children were evaluated in this study. Additionally, other studies have shown that active video games do not have a positive effect on physical activity levels in children. 


    Change diet



    (Source: USDAgov, Flickr)


    Changing exercise habits and diet at the same time may provide more benefits than making the changes separately, according to findings published online in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine said the reason for this is because focusing primarily on diet makes it difficult for many people to maintain a consistent exercise routine. However, the participants in this study were ages 45 and older, and children have different nutritional needs than adults, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (test your knowledge of children’s nutritional needs here). So while parents should help their children obtain proper nutrition, some health experts suggest the way in which parents do so can play a role in their children’s success. Health Guide Dina R. Rose, who has a PhD in sociology from Duke University, says it is more effective to emphasize teaching children good eating habits rather than simply providing them with nutritional food. Read Rose’s advice for parents here.


    Join a sports team



    (Source: woodleywonderworks, Flickr)


    Children ages 6-17 should engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, according to youth physical activity guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This should include a combination of aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities. A recent study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, found that children under age 10 should actually get at least 80 minutes of physical activity a day, including 20 minutes of vigorous exercise. This new research, conducted by David Jiménez Pavón from the University of Zaragosa, is significant because it is the first of its kind to examine the link between exercise in younger children and developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) in adulthood. Playing sports is a good way for children to get more exercise, especially playing sports that require vigorous physical activity, such as soccer, basketball and baseball. Even if your children play sports, however, researchers say that it is not a guarantee that they will reach the recommended amount of daily exercise.

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    Follow gender-specific guidelines



    (Source: Andrej Bolkovic, Flickr)


    The study in the journal BMC Medicine that found that children under age 10 should get at least 80 minutes of physical activity a day also pointed out that exercise guidelines differ between genders. Researchers said the reason for following gender-specific guidelines is because boys and girls respectively showed different risks for developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) in adulthood. David Jiménez Pavón from the University of Zaragosa, who conducted the study, along with the team of researchers, suggest that boys under six years old should get more than 70 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity exercise a day, whereas older boys should get at least 80 minutes. The researchers said girls of all ages should aim to get around an hour of exercise daily. However, they  said to keep in mind that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, as some children who meet their guidelines still have unhealthy CVD profiles and vice versa.


    Keep volume low, intensity high



    (Source: Mark Zimmerman, Flickr)


    Realistically, it might not always be possible to obtain recommended amounts of daily exercise. One study, published in PLOS ONE, found that just twelve minutes of exercise per week could produce health benefits, including elevated oxygen intake levels and lower blood pressure and glucose levels. The researchers were from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and examined 26 inactive, overweight male subjects over the course of 10 weeks. They said four-minute bursts of vigorous physical activity three times a week – an example of low-volume, high-intensity exercise training –  may be a time-efficient means to achieve health benefits. The men in this study were ages 35-45, however, and the study did not say whether children would benefit from similar low-volume, high-intensity exercise.   


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    "Annals of Behavioral Medicine." Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM). N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2013. <>.


    Change Diet, Exercise Habits at Same Time for Best Results, Stanford Study Says. EurekAlert!, 21 Apr. 2013. Web. 12 Aug. 2013. <>.


    "Childhood Obesity Rates Decline." HealthCentral. Remedy Health Media, 7 Aug. 2013. Web. 12 Aug. 2013. <>.


    Glynn, Sarah. "12 Minutes Of Exercise A Week Could Be Enough To Stay Fit." Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 01 June 2013. Web. 12 Aug. 2013. <>.


    "Kids' Team Sports Often Lacking in Exercise, Study Finds." Kids' Team Sports Often Lacking in Exercise, Study Finds. HealthDay, 6 Dec. 2010. Web. 12 Aug. 2013. <>.


    McMurray, Robert G. "Insights into Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Young Children: IDEFICS Study." BMC Medicine 11.173 (2013): n. pag. Print.


    Page, A. S., A. R. Cooper, P. Griew, and R. Jago. "Children's Screen Viewing Is Related to Psychological Difficulties Irrespective of Physical Activity." Pediatrics 126.5 (2010): E1011-1017. Print.


    "Physical Activity Levels In Children Not Altered By Active Video Games." Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 28 Feb. 2012. Web. 12 Aug. 2013. <>.


    "Progress on Childhood Obesity." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 06 Aug. 2013. Web. 12 Aug. 2013. <>.


    The Journal of Pediatrics. New Study Recommends Using Active Videogaming ("Exergaming") to Improve Children’s Health. The Journal of Pedatrics. The Journal of Pedatrics, 2013. Web. 12 Aug. 2013. <>.


    Tjønna, Arnt Erik, Ulrik Wisløff, Ingeborg Megaard Leinan, Anette Thoresen Bartnes, Bjørn M. Jenssen, Martin J. Gibala, and Richard A. Winett. "Low- and High-Volume of Intensive Endurance Training Significantly Improves Maximal Oxygen Uptake after 10-Weeks of Training in Healthy Men." PLOS One (2013): n. pag. Print.


    "Youth Physical Activity Guidelines Toolkit." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Feb. 2013. Web. 12 Aug. 2013. <>.

Published On: August 13, 2013