Preventing childhood obesity takes a community approach


Childhood obesity is on the rise nationally and in North Dakota. Obesity increases the risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Obesity can also lead to psychological problems such as anxiety and depression, low self-esteem, bullying and stigma.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015-2016, the prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents aged 2 through 19 years was 18.5%, affecting 13.7 million children and adolescents, or about one in five children. In North Dakota, 14.3% of all children ages 2 through 4 who receive services through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program are considered obese. In addition, 16.5% of adolescents in grades 9 through 12 are considered obese (2019 North Dakota Youth Risk Behavioral Survey).

“Reducing and preventing childhood obesity needs to be looked at using a whole community approach,” said Sarah Massey, school health specialist with the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDOH). “Children learn by watching others; what they see their parent, family members and teachers choose is what they most likely will choose. A community-based approach which educates all members of the community on making healthy choices, can result in improved overall health of all North Dakotans.”

The following tips are great ways to incorporate healthy eating choices and more physical activity into your communities:

  • Eat & Drink Healthy: Establish positive, nurturing environments and healthy patterns of eating and drinking to promote habits that are built on variety, balance, and moderation. Make water the drink of choice, encourage the use of refillable water bottles and place a full pitcher of water on the table during meals.
  • Play Every Day: Children should have at least 60 minutes of unstructured play outside (when possible) and break a sweat at least three times a week by getting 20 minutes or more of vigorous physical activity. North Dakota winters can present additional challenges when inclement weather keeps us inside. Discover new ways to stay active in the winter such as going sledding, ice skating, cross country skiing, checking out an indoor exercise class at a local recreational center or trying an exercise video.
  •  Reduce Recreational Screen Time: Children 2 to 5 years of age should be limited to one hour of screen time per day. Children 6 and older need to have consistent limits on the time spent using media and make sure the media doesn’t take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
  • Sleep Well: Children need to keep a regular sleep schedule; encourage them to unwind by reading a book or listening to soft music to prepare for sleep. Growing kids need about 10-12 hours of healthy sleep a night.

For more information, visit