Limiting childhood obesity


Surprisingly, one of the best ways that we can help our children who struggle with weight has more to do with setting appropriate limits as a caregiver than it has to do with food. Children can feel insecure and uncomfortable without appropriate limits; some learn to overeat to compensate for these uncomfortable feelings. Providing children with appropriate limits, positive attention, and age appropriate autonomy can help them naturally get to a healthy weight.

Children and adolescents cannot be expected to get themselves to bed at a reasonable time, to feed themselves regularly, to limit their screen time or to spend appropriate time being active. We must provide gentle reminders and appropriate limits, and be willing to set consequences if necessary. We can offer positive rewards that are not food-related.

How does setting appropriate limits help children manage their weight? Children thrive on routine and regular interaction with the adults in their lives, and rely on them to model healthy ways of being in the world. Even though your children may protest, setting limits creates a level of security for them. When children are uncomfortable in their lives, they are more likely to reach for food to comfort themselves. Setting appropriate limits and reinforcing them, combined with sharing time in a positive context, allows your child to feel more at ease and less likely to use food for comfort.

'Shapedown' is a weight management program used in health care facilities throughout the country. It focuses on many of these issues and has created positive long lasting results for many children. It addresses specific areas that require parental attention--adequate sleep, healthy food, limited screen-time, ample physical activity and no sugary drinks. Some States legislatures have adopted the motto, 5-2-1-0, to help parents and educators remember what healthy limits are:

5 - servings of fruits and vegetables per day

2 - no more than 2 hours of total screen time per day

1 - at least one hour of physical activity per day

0 - sugary drinks per day

Adding an 8- or 10- to the beginning of this can help to remind us to get our children to bed for adequate rest.

Let's take a look at some ideas of how to meet these goals.

Sleep -

1. Set an appropriate bedtime that allows for adequate sleep and help your child stick to it.

2. Create a bedtime ritual that helps your child to settle down (such as reading). This can be an opportunity for positive, nurturing connection.

3. Shut off lights and electronics 30-60 minutes before bed. The dark signals hormones in our body that tell us that it is time to sleep.

Food -

1. Feeding our children 3 meals and 2 healthy snacks per day is vital to achieving a healthy weight. Children need to know that they can count on regular food times to support their intrinsic intake regulation.

2. Healthy meals and snacks consist of a variety of whole foods: protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, vegetables and fruit. Fruit should be limited to 2-3 servings per day.

3. Provide variety even if your child does not like the foods. It takes 15 exposures to become familiar with a new food.

4. Limit intake of chips, cookies, and candies.

5. Encourage children to learn to understand their bodies' signals of hunger and satiation. By listening to these signals, our children learn to trust their bodies.

Screen time -

1. Spending too much time on a screen causes us to be sedentary, and is not good for our brain chemistry. Because screens come in so many forms (TV, video games, computer, internet, iPod touch, I phone ), we may need to be extra diligent to be aware of how our children are spending their time.

2. Help your children monitor their screen time. Set timers as a reminder.

4. Allow screen-time only after they have completed their responsibilities.

Physical Activity

1. Plan for at least one hour of physical activity each day. Outdoor play and organized sports both encourage your child to move.

2. Be a positive example yourself. This may be a great opportunity to spend enjoyable time together.


1. Water is the best drink for you and your child.

2. Sports drinks are unnecessary and are mostly full of sugar. Avoiding sugary drinks is one of the easiest ways to lose weight.

3. Keep soda out of the house. Soda provides extra calorie, lots of sugar and can affect getting calcium into your child's growing bones.

4. Whole fruit is a much better choice than fruit juice; the fiber will help with satiation and blood sugar regulation. Limit the amount of juice your child consumes.

Providing limits in these five areas is a commitment to our children and our future. We are training them to be independent adults as we help them feel good about themselves and maintain a healthy weight for their body type.

Avoid restricting food, as this only tells children not to trust themselves and suggests that they are flawed. Instead, teach them to listen to their hunger/ satiation, provide them with some responsibilities, and be present for them in a nurturing way.

Stacey London-Oshkello offers nutrition counseling at Sojourns Community Health Clinic. Stacey is mother of 2 children, aged 11 and 9, who teach her how to implement the things she has learned about feeding children. For more information please contact Sojourns Community Health Clinic, at (802) 722-4023, 4923 US Route 5, Westminster, VT,, find us on facebook and check out our blog:


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