Stemming childhood obesity requires tackling root causes

March 2, 2023—Childhood obesity rates tripled in the U.S. over the past 30 years, and further surged during the COVID-19 pandemic—with more children gaining weight at younger ages and racial and economic disparities persisting.

The pandemic exacerbated issues that were already part of the problem, according to Erica Kenney, assistant professor of public health nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and other experts quoted in a February 23, 2023, article in The Hill. Ongoing factors contributing to childhood obesity include sedentary behavior, exposure to junk food advertising, and limited access to healthy food.

Interventions to help children lose weight need to avoid perpetuating weight stigma, which can increase the risk of eating disorders, experts said. One solution is to shift the focus from weight loss to developing healthy behaviors, Kenney said. “It isn’t just about weight when you want to eat healthfully or be physically active. It’s about your overall health and wellbeing.”

Kenney also suggested a few policy focus areas: easy access to cheap, ultra-processed food; lack of physical activity opportunities; and food insecurity. “We should be addressing some of these root causes, so that down the line, everybody can be healthier,” she said.

Read The Hill article: Childhood obesity is surging: What to know about rising rates, and efforts to curb them