Childhood Obesity in your Healthy Community

You may be one of the many readers that can remember a time when playing outside was a large part of your childhood. Many people like to make the comparison between then and now, but today’s youth face a vast number of new issues daily - especially with the rapid social changes in the last two years – that impact their health behaviors at home and school. September is acknowledged as National Childhood Obesity Awareness month. Obesity is defined as abnormal or excessive body fat that presents a risk to health, especially in youth. Overall health is tied to socioeconomic factors, so youth experiencing issues like food insecurity are disproportionately impacted by obesity. In order to address obesity, we have to understand how socioeconomic factors play a part in health and how we can help the youth in our life prepare for their futures.

Childhood obesity is becoming a larger issue in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic. As families are being encouraged to stay home as much as possible, mobility and exercise have been significantly reduced. The Center for Disease Control & Prevention indicates body mass index (BMI) as a key measure of childhood obesity. A study from The Official Journal of Pediatrics published in May 2021 highlights that the average overall obesity prevalence across participants (measured by BMI) increased from 13.7% to 15.4%. In addition to that, a study from The American Society for Nutrition details how even though more data is needed, children in food insecure areas of the nation had greater instances of high body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and consumed more unhealthy foods and drinks. The youth in this study also consumed fewer family meals during breakfast and dinner – simple parts of the day where other studies have proven health benefits lie. The Northeast Louisiana Food Bank found that over 29% of children are facing hunger in the Northeast Region of Louisiana. These are just a few studies that indicate that health behaviors leading to obesity are directly influenced by things like access to insurance, education level, and income.

The problem of childhood obesity will not be solved by simply encouraging families to cook or walk more. The most impactful solutions will require focusing on improving access to healthy food and safe physical activity in the entire community. However, just as there are things we can work towards to build a healthy community for all, there are things we can do to make sure the youth in our lives are living healthy today for a healthy tomorrow. The CDC recommends making sure that kids do the following:

Eat the Rainbow: Unfortunately, very few people get enough fruits and vegetables. In 2017, just 2% of high school students ate enough vegetables, and 7% ate enough fruit. Help your kids eat the rainbow: make half of their plate fruits and vegetables for optimal health.

Move More: Compared to those who are inactive, physically active youth have stronger muscles and better cardiovascular fitness. They also typically have lower body fat and stronger bones. Regular physical activity in childhood also reduces the risk of depression. Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Find a hobby you can do together like skating or biking!

Slow Down on Sugar: A good way to slow down on sugar is by avoiding sugary drinks like soda, juice drinks, and flavored milk. Help your kids rethink their drink by offering water, plain low-fat milk, or 100% juice instead.

Reduce Screen Time: Too much screen time has health consequences: it’s associated with poor sleep, weight gain, lower grades in school, and poor mental health in youth. When you reduce screen time, you free up time for family activities. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends creating a family media plan and has examples such as keeping mealtimes tech-free, charging devices at night outside the bedroom, turning screens off an hour before bed, and many more.

Sleep Well: Too little sleep is associated with obesity partly because inadequate sleep can make us eat more and be less physically active. Help your children sleep better by making sure they’re active during the day, removing screens from their bedrooms, and setting a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends.

To find out how you can be a part of community-wide efforts to address childhood obesity, contact your local LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities coalition. For additional resources on how you can incorporate more positive health behaviors into your life, visit

5/26/2022 2:58:07 PM
Rate This Article:

Have a question or comment about the information on this page?

Innovate . Educate . Improve Lives

The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture