How to Combat Childhood Obesity & Encourage a Healthy Body Image

Childhood Obesity Factors understanding the (Causes):

Childhood obesity can be caused by interactions among the following factors:

Genetic factors – studies have shown that genetic characteristics may increase a child’s susceptibility to excess body weight. This factor is not the sole contributing factor… other factors that feed into genetics are environmental and behavioral (high-calorie foods plus minimal physical activity) as an example.

Behavioral factors – because childhood obesity factors interact with one another there is no possible way to identify one specific behavior that causes obesity… but the potentiality of certain behaviors can contribute to “energy imbalance” thus adding the causes of obesity.

Energy Intake: Not enough (not eating when a child should) leads to overeating because a child is starved. Additionally, when a child/adolescent is starved they turn to both sugary drinks and energy drinks (for energy) which are less satisfying then solid forms of food and lead to higher caloric intakes because the child is attempting to make up for the energy they are lacking.

Emotional: using food as a way to deal with feelings (Physical Hunger vs. Emotional Hunger). Emotional hunger feels sudden/urgent and causes very specific cravings such as (pizza, ice cream, or candy), which kids tend to eat more then normal, and leaves a child/adolescent feeling guilty.

This can occur in both children and adolescents for many reasons such as:

Boredom (cravings include salty crunchy things like chips)

Studying (or cramming for a test)



Major life events (death, divorce, or other traumatic events)



To feel comfort

Sadness (cravings include sweet items such as ice cream and cookies)

Foods such as chips, cookies, ice cream, etc. may activate certain chemicals in the body to create a sense of either fulfillment or contentment.

The question is… how does a parent break the cycle of their child’s emotional eating?

Physical Activity: children and adolescents who spend less time engaging in physical activity have a higher risk of increased body weight, high blood pressure, and decreased bone strength (see sedentary behavior which plays a huge role in decreased physical activity).

Sedentary Behavior (sitting around & not moving): a considerable amount of time is spent with media, TV, and many other devices such as the iPad, Xbox, etc., etc. which has increased sedentary behavior among children and adolescents more then ever before!

Studies have shown that children and adolescents who spend more time using media and watching TV have an increased risk of becoming overweight!!!

The use of media and TV viewing may:

Reduce the time spent in physical activities

Contribute to excessive snacking & eating meals in front of the TV

Influence children and adolescents to make unhealthy food choices through the exposure of fast food marketing and advertisements

And lower a child’s metabolic rate.

Environmental factors: can influence children’s/adolescent’s behavior related to food intake and physical activity… Some of the environments include; home, community environments, childcare, and school.

Home – parents are the role models for their children and adolescents… and because of this fact; children/adolescents are likely to develop habits that are similar to that of their parents.

Parent-child interactions within the home environment can affect the behaviors of their youths.

Positive Interactions: Parents can either have highly positive interactions with their youths by setting a good example of what healthy eating habits are and what healthy food choices are, and by creating a healthy and physically active family i.e. (going to the park to throw the baseball, shooting hoops, skipping rope, etc.).

Negative Interactions: conversely parents can also have a negative affect upon their youths. Buying fast food because time does not permit the parents to make a healthy home cooked meal, parents who encourage eating in front of the TV, snacking consistently, eating sugary foods, salty foods, foods that have no nutritional value, being under active or not being physically active at all.


Within Childcare – 80% of youths under the age of 5 and younger have working mothers who need childcare on an average of 40 hours per week.

This is important! The ages described above are developmental years of a child’s life. With this in mind, the childcare setting can be a place where your child can either form positive habits such as healthy eating habits and physical activity habits… or they can learn the negative side of things (this all depends on the environment you have chosen for your child).

Within Schools – your children will spend the ages of 5-17 in school, which means this environment will highly influence your child habits. These habits can either be positive or negative behaviors/habits depending on their school’s environment and the values that are taught. Be aware of the programs administered by your child’s school which should include a program that focuses on infusing your child with healthy nutritional values and additionally their physical activity programs, how they teach your children to be active and continue to have healthy physically active behaviors/habits.

Within the Community – the communities, which you live in, can be built with the purposeful intention to influence healthy physical activity and foster healthy food choices (sources to purchase healthy foods) in youths.

Some communities build skate parks; have bike paths, hiking trails, and parks, which help to encourage children and adolescents to be more physically active.

Some communities have a plethora of neighborhood markets that offer affordable healthy food choices making it easy for your family to purchase foods with high nutritional value.

Keep in mind there is a flip side to this

Lack of side walks

Safe bike paths


And neighborhood markets

Can make some difficult barriers to purchasing healthy foods and accessing places where children and adolescents can be physically active.

How to Encourage a Healthy Body Image in your Child/Adolescent:

Healthy Choices start with YOU… so set a good example!

Keep track of your children’s meals/snacks/physical activity (patterns).

Encourage your family to eat at least 5 servings of colored vegetables and fruits a day.

Do not buy or stock the home pantry with, soft drinks, chips, and cookies… leave those items at the store!

Make snacks healthy by substituting them with fruits, veggies, nuts, low-fat milk, and water.

Serve child sized portions! If your child is still hungry (let them ask for more) but do not force them to finish (clean their plates)! Use ChooseMyPlateas a reference tool for nutrition and food portions for both your children and adolescents.

Make your food choices abundant… no single food group supplies all the nutrients in the amounts your family needs for good health, so make sure you plan your meals so they are balanced.

Become an active physically active family! Play sports together, coach your child’s team, and go for a family hike/bike/walk/or run.

Even when we as parents understand what’s going on, many of us still need help breaking the cycle of emotional eating. It’s not easy! Especially when emotional eating has already led to weight and self-esteem issues, which means parents may need help and the expert advice of a family therapist.

Alison Strate