Obesity Prevention Recommendations for Families: Complete List

Healthy Eating and Active Lifestyles Begin at Home

It hardly needs saying that families are one of the most important and lasting influences on the choices—health and otherwise—that children and youth make. So when it comes to preventing excess weight gain and obesity, parents and guardians have fantastic potential to steer children in directions that lay the foundation for lifelong good health.

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Children today live in a world that more readily promotes unhealthy eating than healthy eating, and fosters sedentary activities more than physical activities. But parents can provide children with the tools and experience they need to ignore the unhealthy cues and make healthy choices.

Parents can do this by creating the healthiest home food environment possible: stocking the fridge and pantry with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other nutritious foods; keeping to a minimum low-quality foods and drinks, like sugary soda, sweets, and super-processed foods; eating dinner together as a family; and nurturing kids’ interest in food shopping and cooking, even gardening.

Parents can also create a home where being active daily is the norm: walking or biking with their kids to school; planning fun, active outings with family and friends; keeping TV and other screen time low; and simply encouraging kids to go out and play. And parents can make sure that kids regularly get enough sleep, since healthy sleep has been linked to healthy weight.

Of course, it’s important for parents to know whether children are indeed at a healthy weight. They can do this by making sure that a healthcare provider routinely measures body mass index percentile for age, and by discussing trends during annual checkups.

Above all else, parents and guardians should try to be good role models for their kids—eating healthfully, staying active, minimizing screen time, and living healthy lifestyles that children can internalize as they grow. Parents can also advocate for changes in our “toxic” food and activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices for all.

Teachers, coaches, family physicians, nutritionists, and other people directly involved in children’s lives can play similar roles to parents. And they can help parents develop the skills to navigate their families in a healthy direction.

With obesity a major and growing problem, ensuring a healthy home that helps guide youth toward long-term better health is more important than it ever has been. The benefits begin almost immediately and can spread to future generations.

This section of The Obesity Prevention Source summarizes obesity prevention recommendations for parents and families, based on a review of expert guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list on each page, as well as the links to useful toolkits and other resources.

Promoting Healthy Eating at Home

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Parents can foster lifelong healthy eating habits in their children by providing a variety of healthy foods in the home, limiting junk food and sugary drinks, and being role models for healthy eating.

Here is a summary of nutrition and healthy eating–related obesity prevention recommendations for parents and families, based on a review of expert guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list and the links to other resources.

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Read and print the complete list of obesity prevention recommendations for families.

Breastfeed infants from birth to 6 months, without other solid foods or liquids, and continue breastfeeding after starting solid food, until 12 months or longer (1,2,3,4)
Promote healthy eating by stocking a variety of nutritious foods at home—fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy sources of protein, low-fat dairy (1,4)
Keep high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks out of the home—especially sugar-sweetened beverages (1,4,5)
Model healthy eating for children by choosing a healthy diet (4,6)

Read tips for choosing a healthy diet: Healthy Weight Checklist

Encourage children to try a variety of new healthy foods, such as vegetables; remember that it can take multiple tries for kids to accept a new food (1,4)
Eat dinner as a family at home, and get children involved in shopping for and preparing meals (3,5,7)
Eat breakfast and encourage children to eat breakfast daily (8)
Limit eating in restaurants and fast-food restaurants, and limit takeout food (8)
Teach children to pay attention to feelings of fullness: Offer smaller portions, allow them to choose their own portions, and don’t force them to “clean their plates” (1,3,4,5,9)

Promoting Healthy Eating at Home—Source List

1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Overweight and Obesity: What families can do. 2011. Accessed January 30, 2012.

2. American Academy of Pediatrics – Policy Statement. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2005;115:496-506.

3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation 2010 Rockville: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2010.

4. Institute of Medicine. Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press; 2005.

5. Office of the Surgeon General. Childhood Obesity Prevention: Parents and Caregivers Checklist. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011.

6. American Heart Association. Overweight in Children. 2011. Accessed January 30, 2012.

7. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a Generation: White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President: White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity; 2010.

8. Barlow SE. Expert committee recommendations regarding the prevention, assessment, and treatment of child and adolescent overweight and obesity: summary report. Pediatrics. 2007;120 Suppl 4:S164-92.

9. National Prevention Council. National Prevention Strategy. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2011.

Creating Active Families, Curbing Screen Time, Boosting Sleep

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Children need to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and parents can help kids achieve that goal in many ways. Setting limits on television (TV) and other screen time—no more than two hours a day—is just as important as staying active. A good night’s sleep may also help children stay at a healthy weight.

Here is a summary of physical activity, screen time, and sleep-related obesity prevention recommendations for parents and families, based on a review of expert guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list and the links to other resources.

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Read and print the complete list of obesity prevention recommendations for families.

Be active as a family, choosing activities that family members of all ages and abilities can enjoy (1,2,3,4)
Model active lifestyles for children by becoming more physically active and by limiting sedentary activities, such as television watching (1,2,3,5,6)
Promote safe physical activity, such as having children wear bicycle helmets (1,2,6)
Give children gifts that encourage physical activity (2,4,6)
Walk or bike to school with children (3,4)
Encourage children to play outside (1,2)
Help children play on a sports team or try a new physical activity (1,4,6)
Limit children’s TV viewing and recreational screen time (computers, DVDs, video games)

  • Children age 2 and older: Less than two hours of screen time per day (2,4,6,7)
  • Children under the age of 2: Avoid television watching/screen time (8)
Make children’s bedrooms TV-free, by not putting a TV in the bedroom or removing televisions that are there (2,4,6,7)
Avoid putting an Internet connection in children’s bedrooms (8)
Turn off the television during mealtimes (9)
Ensure children get adequate sleep, and establish healthy sleep habits early on (4,7,10)

Read more: Physical Activity and Sleep Recommendations for Children and Teens

Family Physical Activity, Screen Time, and Sleep—Source List

1. American Academy of Pediatrics – Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness and Council on School Health Policy Statement. Active healthy living: prevention of childhood obesity through increased physical activity. Pediatrics. 2006;117:1834-42.

2. Institute of Medicine. Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press; 2005.

3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation 2010 Rockville: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2010.

4. Let’s Move. Active Families. 2011. Accessed January 30, 2012.

5. American Heart Association. Overweight in Children. 2011. Accessed January 30, 2012.

6. American Academy of Pediatrics. Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Overweight and Obesity: What families can do. 2011. Accessed January 30, 2012.

7. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a Generation: White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President: White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity; 2010.

8. Strasburger VC. Children, adolescents, obesity, and the media. Pediatrics. 2011;128:201-8.

9. Let’s Move. Reduce Screen Time and Get Active. 2011. Accessed January 30, 2012.

10. Office of the Surgeon General. Childhood Obesity Prevention: Parents and Caregivers Checklist. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011.

Terms of Use

The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.