Now Viewing: Childhood Obesity

Can Global Insights Help the U.S. Reframe Obesity?

Sep 7, 2022, 10:00 AM, Posted by Tatiana Paz Lemus, Ted Fischer

Diet and physical activity alone do not determine body size. Lessons from abroad reveal how the United States can improve policy around childhood obesity by taking culture into account.

Illustration for blog on weight.

The spread of body positivity is at an all-time high. Celebrities and influencers are celebrating larger bodies. Models of a variety of sizes are promoting beauty and consumer products. And a flood of social media posts and TV shows urge us to love our bodies as they are.

Despite this positive rhetoric, weight bias and fat shaming remain rampant. Thinness is a Western ideal that has had enormous influence around the world, spread first through colonization and echoed today through social media and pop culture. It's an ideal that has racist roots: during the slave trade, middle and upper class white women were told to eat “as little as was necessary in order to show their Christian nature and also their racial superiority” in the words of sociologist Sabrina Strings. Body size became associated with discipline and self-control and used to suggest who did and did not deserve freedom.

Childhood Obesity and Weight Discrimination

While unintentional, anti-fat attitudes have also made their way into public health policy. Take efforts to address childhood obesity: there is no shortage of interventions that concentrate on diet and exercise, based on conventional wisdom that weight gain results from more calories consumed than expended. But this focus on individual behavior feeds into biases that being overweight is the result of a lack of self-discipline or a moral failing. 

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In Mexico, Healthy Food Is a Child’s Right

Dec 7, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by Ana Larrañaga

Last year, Mexico took a tremendous step toward prioritizing childrens’ health by banning junk foods and sugary drinks.

A young girl at a produce stand.

“Children have the right to be in environments that are health promoting and free of unhealthy foods and drinks.” —Ana Larrañaga works with Salud Crítica, a public health advocacy organization based in Mexico City

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the State of Childhood Obesity website.

Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, legislators in Mexico moved swiftly to ban the sale of unhealthy foods and beverages to children.

Oaxaca was the first state to approve junk food bans.

This started as a true grassroots movement, ignited by the strong community advocacy of 13 different Indigenous groups who were determined to protect people from diabetes and obesity—and prevent the displacement of traditional foods that are deeply rooted in their culture. They fought to prohibit distributors from delivering sugary drinks and junk food to their local stores.

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A Historic Day for SNAP

Sep 30, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by Jennie Day-Burget

October 1 ushered in the largest permanent benefits increase in the nearly 60-year history of what is known today as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

SNAP benefits for health care.

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finds that approximately 10.5% of families experienced food insecurity in 2020—the same percentage as 2019.

That finding may not seem groundbreaking. But it is truly stunning.

How is it possible that rates of food insecurity did not increase during the worst pandemic in a century? After all, the economic upheaval caused by COVID-19 was swift and severe, with a perfect storm of factors—including massive job loss, significant wage reductions, widespread school closures, and marked increases in food prices—that one would naturally assume a sizable increase in rates of food insecurity across the board would occur.

It didn’t happen.

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Reducing Childhood Obesity Now May Help in the Next Pandemic

Jun 23, 2020, 10:45 AM, Posted by William H. Dietz

Research suggests that obesity leads to greater risk of becoming severely ill from diseases such as COVID-19. How can we address health disparities that contribute to obesity to better protect our children from future public health crises?

A woman and child pick fresh fruits and vegetables from a food cart.

Among the many lessons emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic is the impact of obesity. People with obesity and associated diseases tend to become sicker and are more likely to die when COVID-19 strikes.

We know childhood obesity is a powerful predictor of obesity in adulthood. It puts children at increased risk for developing numerous health problems later in life, including diabetes and heart disease. In addition to these chronic diseases, early research suggests that obesity may also increase their susceptibility as adults to serious illness like COVID-19.

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New Year, New Nutrition Facts Label

Jan 9, 2020, 10:00 AM, Posted by Jamie Bussel

The Nutrition Facts label just got its first big makeover in 20 years. Learn why the updates will be a game-changer for parents and families.

For many of us, January 1 brings New Year’s resolutions—and those resolutions often have something to do with a renewed commitment to better health. As we all know, of course, these resolutions can sometimes lose steam after a few months...or even weeks...or sometimes just days. Fortunately, for those of us who have made commitments to eat healthier in 2020, we’re all getting a hand to ensure those resolutions can stick for the long-term.

We’re all familiar with the Nutrition Facts label. This is the label that appears on billions of food and beverage products, giving us the lowdown on how healthy (or not so healthy) items are based on metrics like calories, fat, sugar, salt, carbohydrates, protein, and various vitamins and minerals. The label has been mandatory under a federal law enacted in 1990.

On January 1, an updated Nutrition Facts label took effect covering all food and beverage products from manufacturers with more than $10 million in sales (most manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual sales get an additional year to comply). This milestone is a long time coming—the previous label had been in effect for 20 years and it’s been six years since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first proposed updates. RWJF submitted comments in support of the proposed changes, which will empower consumers and families to make healthier purchasing decisions.

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Listening to Families and Communities to Address Childhood Obesity

Oct 31, 2019, 2:00 PM, Posted by Renee Boynton-Jarrett

Renee Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD, believes that children’s health and well-being are intricately and inextricably connected to their family and community.

Children and their parents participate in a school activity.

When a mother walked into my health clinic five years ago with her 13-year-old daughter, she wanted to know why her daughter had gained a significant amount of weight in a matter of months. She was concerned an underlying medical condition might have caused the sudden spike her daughter’s weight. I was concerned as well. Childhood obesity is an epidemic that affects far too many children and it is linked to other serious, chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and asthma.

I knew I would run tests and order blood work, but I also wanted to know what factors in her social world could have sparked the weight change. We sat down together to look at her daughter’s growth chart, see when the growth trajectory started to accelerate, and what could have been happening then. “Did anything change in your family? Do you recall anything that happened around that time?”

The mom suddenly realized that the changes started shortly after the girl’s father was incarcerated. That’s information I could not have gotten from a blood test. Nor if I had rattled off recommendations without first sitting down to listen.

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Expert Guidance on What Young Kids Should Drink and Avoid

Sep 19, 2019, 10:00 AM, Posted by Mary Story, Tina Kauh

The nation’s leading health and nutrition organizations have issued evidence-based recommendations for parents, caregivers, health professionals and policymakers.

Young girl drinking from a cup.

“Should I be giving my toddler milk?”

“What’s the difference between fruit juice and a fruit-flavored drink?”

“I thought fat was good for my kids. Why should I switch my 2-year-old to low-fat milk?”

Every day, parents, caregivers, child-care providers and others struggle with questions like these about what kids should drink—and what they shouldn’t. They’re trying to do their best for kids’ health, but it’s not as easy as it may sound.

Ensuring that kids grow up healthy includes paying attention not only to what they eat, but also what they drink, especially during the early years when they are establishing their eating patterns. To do that, parents and caregivers need clear, consistent advice from health professionals about what drinks are healthiest for their kids. And policymakers need guidance so that they can create the strongest policies possible to help all children grow up healthy.

But, faced with an array of product choices and inconsistent messages about what’s healthy and what’s not, it can be challenging to know which beverages kids should drink, especially since recommendations seem to change every few months as kids get older.

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Dining Out Smarter With New Menu Labeling Rules

May 7, 2018, 12:00 AM, Posted by Jennifer Ng'andu

New menu labeling information will help families make healthier choices and may save billions of dollars in health care costs over the next 20 years.

A family reading a menu in a restaurant.

Do you remember the spring of 2011? The iPhone 4 was all the rage. Plenty of people were still figuring out what a Tweet was. We were learning from Beyoncé that girls run the world.  

Spring of 2011 was also when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first proposed national menu labeling rules. These rules would require that chain restaurants and other food retailers provide calorie counts and other nutrition information to their customers.

Today, seven years later, those rules finally take effect. This important milestone will make it significantly easier for parents and families to make healthier choices when eating out. The potential benefits to our nation’s health and economic well-being are substantial.

How did we get here? Why is this a big deal? And what’s the connection to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) Culture of Health vision?

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Encouraging Progress on the State of Obesity in the United States

Nov 17, 2016, 3:00 PM, Posted by Donald F. Schwarz, Richard Hamburg

Teaming up to reverse childhood obesity has yielded promising results—including new data that shows rates among 2-4 year olds enrolled in the federal WIC program have declined in 31 states. But the work is far from over. 

Child and farmers market greens.

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A New Innovation Award for Health Care Provider Training and Education

Nov 1, 2016, 9:00 AM, Posted by Jenny Bogard

Providers need to be equipped with the tools to help patients make healthy choices. That’s why the Alliance for Healthier Generation is recognizing innovative training programs providing nutrition, physical activity and obesity counseling education to their students.

Even at the young age of four, Luke was overweight. In fifth grade, he tried out for the baseball team, and although he made it, he struggled that season. He was slower than the other kids as he rounded the bases, and he started having knee pain from the extra weight on his joints. Luke and his family knew they had to do something. But they dreaded going to the doctor, knowing he’d get weighed and then have to confront the escalating numbers on the scale. Year after year, the same thing would happen, and they’d have the same discussion with his doctor when they finally worked up the nerve to go. But the weight never came off.

Apprehension about a visit to the doctor is something we all face, no matter our age or health. Who among us doesn’t get a little nervous before our annual visit, knowing we might face a difficult conversation about losing weight, or flossing more, or stopping smoking? These are things we all know, but have a hard time talking about.

And even worse, if we do have these important conversations, they can lead to feelings of shame and disappointment.

But the reality is that it’s not necessarily your doctor’s fault. Even with the hundreds of thousands of hours of education your doctor gets in classrooms and hospitals, most receive little to no training in how to talk to patients about making healthy choices. In fact, fewer than 30 percent of medical schools meet the minimum number of hours of education in nutrition and exercise recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

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