Primary Prevention is a Critical Component in Preventing Pediatric Obesity

Female doctor examining child with stethoscope

Newly updated pediatric report includes specific food recommendations as part of obesity prevention.

In July 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics published an update to their 2003 clinical report on prevention of pediatric obesity (Daniels, 2015). Obesity prevention is a public health priority because obesity is the most prevalent chronic health condition in pediatrics. Moreover, the report noted:

Although treatment of obesity in the pediatric age group, as well as secondary and tertiary prevention, will remain a key component of a comprehensive strategy to address this public health problem, the results of treatment remain modest, and primary prevention is recognized as a critical part of a sustainable solution

Prevention must begin as early as the prenatal period, since maternal obesity is one of the strongest predictors of childhood obesity. In the infancy period, supporting breastfeeding and monitoring for rapid weight gain is key. When infants begin eating solid foods, pediatric providers can help guide parents with age-appropriate timing and food selection. Too often, parents choose to feed their infants and toddlers foods of high calorie and low nutrient content. Overly controlling feeding practices should be discouraged, because that can lead to eating disorders. However, many parents are not familiar with optimal nutritional patterns, and could benefit from some guidance. A healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low fat dairy, and fish is recommended in this clinical report. Eggs are listed in the report as a substitute for meat, fish, or poultry. Eggs provide a good source of protein, and can be prepared in a variety of ways to adapt to toddlers’ unique palettes. The report provides specific dietary suggestions, as well as, helpful nutrition resources for both health care providers and parents.

Pediatric healthcare providers are in a unique position to identify children who are becoming overweight and to prevent childhood obesity. It is important for providers to obtain anthrometric measurements at every well-child visit, in order to monitor trends in body mass index (BMI) percentile for age. In addition to dietary measures discussed above, pediatric providers must emphasize the importance of regular exercise, as an increasing number of children spend countless hours daily watching an electronic screen of some sort. Promotion of 60 minutes or more of at least moderate physical activity is crucial, as well as limiting use of electronic “screen time” to 2 hours or less per day.

This clinical report has a wealth of information regarding prevention of obesity, including resources for helping parents improve communication to prevent obesity, motivational interviewing training for providers, recommendations on specific foods to target and avoid, and age-based nutritional and activity recommendations. I encourage you to read the report and use the information in your practice.

Reference Citation

Daniels, SR, SG Hassink, and Committee on Nutrition.”The role of the pediatrician in primary prevention of obesity.” Pediatrics July 2015 136 (1);275-282.

Chris-Barry Chris Barry, PA-C, MMSc., is a practicing physician assistant and is part of the Egg Nutrition Center Health Professional Advisory Board for which he receives compensation in exchange for contributing to this blog. However, all opinions reflected in this post are the authors.

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