Changing the tide of childhood obesity

Educating families, parents, children and communities about dietary recommendations and physical activity for young people will empower change.

Childhood obesity has risen in the United States which has caused national controversy. What do we need to know and how do we begin to reverse the trend? Nutrition eeducation for families, parents, children and the community has great potential to be the catalyst for changing behavior to move us all to healthier choices and environments.

Research from Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows evidence that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The percentage of obese children aged six to eleven years of age in the United States has jumped from seven percent in 1980 to nearly 20 percent in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12 to19 years who were obese increased from five percent to 18 percent over the same period. In 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. Overweight and obesity are the result of caloric imbalance, too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed. These conditions are affected by various genetic, behavioral and environmental factors.

Calorie recommendations developed in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans vary by age and activity level, but generally speaking the following chart can help. Suggestions for including each food group with servings per day are also included in great detail.



2 to 5 years

1,000 to 1,400

6 to 10 years

1,400 to 2,000

11 to 15 years

1,800 to 2,200

 16 to 18 years  

2,400 to 3,200 










1.5 cups    

1.5 cups 

5 ounces 

4 ounces 

2.5 cups 


2 cups          

3 cups 

7 ounces 

6 ounces 

3 cups 


2.5 cups 

4 cups 

10 ounces 

7 cups

3 cups

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, following these calorie intake guidelines and making time for regular physical activity in children and adolescents promotes a healthy body weight and body composition, the key recommendation for children and adolescents is 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily. Physical activity is comprised of the following three types:

  1. Aerobic: Most of the 60 or more minutes a day should be either moderate or vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity. It should include vigorous intensity physical activity at least three days a week, with the other minutes broken-up between muscle and bone strengthening activity.
  2. Muscle: Strengthening activity is recommended at least three days of the week.
  3. Bone: Strengthening activity is recommended at least three days of the week.

It is important to encourage young people to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, that are enjoyable, and that offer variety. For ideas, motivation and resources check out Get Active! Let’s Move. As state and federal government work to create and support good policy, individuals, families and communities can be empowered with the information available to us to make healthy choices and environments.

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