General strategies for obesity prevention

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The prevention of obesity in infants and young children should be considered of high priority. For infants and young children, the main preventive strategies are:

  • the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding;
  • avoiding the use of added sugars and starches when feeding formula;
  • instructing mothers to accept their child's ability to regulate energy intake rather than feeding until the plate is empty;
  • assuring the appropriate micronutrient intake needed to promote optimal linear growth.

For children and adolescents, prevention of obesity implies the need to:

  • promote an active lifestyle;
  • limit television viewing;
  • promote the intake of fruits and vegetables;
  • restrict the intake of energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods (e.g. packaged snacks);
  • restrict the intake of sugars-sweetened soft drinks.

Additional measures include modifying the environment to enhance physical activity in schools and communities, creating more opportunities for family interaction (e.g. eating family meals), limiting the exposure of young children to heavy marketing practices of energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods, and providing the necessary information and skills to make healthy food choices.

In developing countries, special attention should be given to avoidance of overfeeding stunted population groups. Nutrition programmes designed to control or prevent undernutrition need to assess stature in combination with weight to prevent providing excess energy to children of low weight-for-age but normal weight-for-height. In countries in economic transition, as populations become more sedentary and able to access energy-dense foods, there is a need to maintain the healthy components of traditional diets (e.g. high intake of vegetables, fruits and NSP). Education provided to mothers and low socioeconomic status communities that are food insecure should stress that overweight and obesity do not represent good health.

Low-income groups globally and populations in countries in economic transition often replace traditional micronutrient-rich foods by heavily marketed, sugars-sweetened beverages (i.e. soft drinks) and energy-dense fatty, salty and sugary foods. These trends, coupled with reduced physical activity, are associated with the rising prevalence of obesity. Strategies are needed to improve the quality of diets by increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, in addition to increasing physical activity, in order to stem the epidemic of obesity and associated diseases.

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