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Physical Activity as a Prevention of Childhood Obesity

Cierra J. Waller

September 24, 2007





            Obesity has become one of the biggest issues in our world today as it affects people in all realms of life especially in the United States.  The key to preventing obesity is to take action from the beginning at the onset of obesity, which usually begins to develop during early childhood.  It is important to prevent obesity during this time because “once a child is considered overweight, he or she is more likely to be overweight into adolescence and adulthood” ( Childhood obesity can be caused from a number of things as according to the American Obesity Association website such as:


Ÿ  Physical Activity - Lack of regular exercise

Ÿ  Sedentary behavior- High frequency of television viewing, computer usage, and similar behavior that takes up time that can be used for physical activity.

Ÿ  Socioeconomic Status - Low family incomes and non-working parents.

Ÿ  Eating Habits - Over-consumption of high-calorie foods. Some eating patterns that have been associated with this behavior are eating when not hungry, eating while watching TV or doing homework.

Ÿ   Environment - Some factors are over-exposure to advertising of foods that promote high-calorie foods and lack of recreational facilities.


Ÿ  Genetics - Greater risk of obesity has been found in children of obese and overweight parents. (

 Despite what the cause of the obesity might be, most studies agree that one of the most effective ways to treat/prevent childhood obesity is to implement some type of regular physical activity into their daily routine behaviors, because children are not as physically active as they used to be.  The basic goal of physical activity to reduce inactivity amongst children and implementing some type of activity to get children moving.  The American Obesity Association believes that “family and schools are the most critical links in providing the foundation for these behaviors” because children spend the vast majority of their time in those two settings (  Also those are the two most important settings in influencing children’s behaviors and attitudes towards physical activity.

Popular Claims


The Alliance for a Healthier Nation concludes that approximately 17 percent of American students are overweight, because students have fewer opportunities to exercise and play due to standardized testing and budget cuts which has resulted in physical and health education being taken out of the school day (  They believe the solution or treatment for this problem is to implement Student Health programs that do not create budget problems or interfere with the curriculum.

                        The American Obesity Association believes that the entire family should be involved in some sort of physical activity together to as a motivating factor for children.  “Weight control programs that involve both parents and the child have shown improvement in long-term effectiveness compared to directing the program only to the child”.  In the school setting, “daily physical education and comprehensive health education (including lessons on physical activity) in grades K-12 should be required”. Some ways this can be achieved is through “emphasizing enjoyable participation in lifetime physical activities such as walking and dancing, not just competitive sports; Provide school time, such as recess, for unstructured physical activity, such as jumping rope; and by keeping students active for most of class time”.  (

            The Ezine Articles holds that physical activity and exercise should also be built in to the family’s daily routine by setting time aside from your busy schedule to dedicate to staying active somehow – whether it’s simply taking a walk or by playing sports (

            The Diet Channel believes that the way to influence children to be physically active is by involving them in activities that they enjoy doing with the family.  This can simply be playing catch, going hiking, playing basketball, or anything of that nature that can involve the whole family, but they maintain that “a reasonable initial goal is 20-30 minutes of moderate activity per day, in addition to whatever exercise the child gets during the school day” (






            Along with implementing physical activity into children’s daily routines comes associated risks that can be involved with the change of their daily routines.  Even though the U.S. Surgeon General recommends moderate physical activity for at least 60 minutes a day, this can be individualized to fit the needs of the specific child due to the difficulties it may place upon beginners.  Due to their excess weight, sudden changes in their daily routines can cause “problems with their bones and their associated muscles, joints and ligaments” (  Overexertion can also lead to health issue with children in beginning physical activities. 


Research on Treating/Preventing Childhood Obesity

            In looking at different research papers and experiments concerning the issue of childhood obesity, one finds that there are many different methods and views on how to treat the problem.  Contrary to the internet belief that physical activity is the best method to treat childhood obesity, researchers and health professionals all agree that physical activity alone can not prevent or treat the problem.  They have found that many factors such as gender, age, and race/ethnicity must be taken into consideration when determining what is needed to prevent and treat this problem, because they have different affects on the results and findings in different experiments. 

            Some studies hold that gender  has an affect on what type of invention works better to insure results in preventing childhood obesity.  A Meta-Analytic Review of Prevention Programs of Children and Adolescents found that of “64 prevention programs seeking to produce weight gain prevention effects” found that “larger effects were found in programs that were relatively brief, that targeted weight control versus other health behaviors” (   Other factors that the Internet claims to effective like “mandated improvements in diet and exercise, sedentary behavior reduction, delivery by trained interventionists, and parental involvement” were proved not to be related to large effects ( 

            In reference to age, the Meta-Analytic Review collected data from Baranowski Cullen, Nicklas, Thompson, & Baranowski, 2002 that showed that significant effects were generally found in programs that “targeted middle and high school students as opposed to grade school students” (  Therefore, programs of intervention would have better results if they were targeted at adolescence, not children.

            The Meta-Analytic Review found from the sources of Perry et al., 1998 and Gortmaker et al., 1999; Vandongen et al., 1995, respectively, that general programs that focused on prevention through a “healthier low calorie diet” and those “attempting to increase physical activity and/or decrease sedentary behavior” tended to produce “larger effects for females than for males” (  However, the Review found that Kain, Uauy, Vio, Cerda, & Leyton, 2004 study found the opposite of the prior finding to be true.  In addition, The Review found Solomon & Manson, 1997 that “females are at higher risk for onset of obesity than males” (  As a result, they concluded “there was more evidence that obesity prevention programs produce larger effects for females than males”, therefore the need for “intervention effects for prevention programs might be larger for females” than for males ( 

            It has been generally been assumed in many studies that ethnicity is an important influence on the effects of many obesity prevention programs and efforts.  Evidence from  Burke & Bild, 1996 and Kimm et al., 2001 show that “Black and Hispanic individuals show elevated rates of overweight and obesity, as well as greater increases in weight over development, relative to other ethnic groups”  However, the Review discovered from Duncan, Anton, Newton, & Perri, 2003 that “obesity is less stigmatized and is associated with less body dissatisfaction for certain ethnic minority groups” (  Therefore, the intervention effects between these two (high-risk and low-risk ethnic groups) would have significantly different results, but there would be a greater need for intervention programs for high-risk ethnic groups.

            In conclusion, effective prevention programs for childhood obesity are still elusive and more research is needed to find what constitutes effective prevention/treatment methods.  Although most studies hold that the key to prevention is through physical activity and diet, those studies differ depending on the varying factors that influence the effects of the prevention program.  The key, right now, is researching further into this epidemic to find better and more effective ways to battle it.


Works Cited

Baranowski T, Baranowski J, Cullen KW, Thompson DI, Nicklas T, Zakeri I, Rochon J. The fun, food, and fitness project (FFFP): The Baylor GEMS Pilot study. Ethnicity and Disease. 2003;13:S1-30–S1-39

Burke GL, Bild DE. Differences in weight gain in relation to race, gender, age and education in young adults: the CARDIA study. Ethnicity & Health. 1996;1:327–335. [PubMed]

"Childhood Obesity: Causes." American Obesity Association. 02 May 2005. 20 Sept. 2007 <(>. 

"Childhood Obesity: Prevention." American Obesity Association. 02 May 2005. 20 Sept. 2007 <>. 

"Childhood Obesity." Amercian Obesity Association. 02 May 2005. 20 Sept. 2007 <>. 

"Chilhood Obesity." USCF Children's Hospital. 08 May 2007. Regents of the University of California. 21 Sept. 2007 <>. 

Duncan G, Anton S, Newton R, Perri M. Comparison of perceived health to physiological measures of health in Black and White women. Preventive Medicine. 2003;36:624–628. [PubMed]

Hartwell, Eric. "Treatment for Childhood Obesity." Ezine Articles. 18 Feb. 2007. 21 Sept. 2007 <>. 

"Healthy Programs for Schools." Alliance for a Healthier Generation. 21 Sept. 2007 <>. 

Kain J, Uauy R, Vio F, Cerda R, Leyton B. School-based obesity prevention in Chilean primary school children: Methodology and evaluation of a controlled study. International Journal of Obesity. 2004;28:483–493. [PubMed]

Kimm SY, Barton B, Obarzanek E, et al. Racial divergence in adiposity during adolescence: The NHLBI Growth and Health Study. Pediatrics. 2001;107:E34–E40. [PubMed]

Lesperance, Rd. Ld, Erica. "Treatment of Childhood Obesity: the Physical Activity Component." The Diet Channel. 17 Jan. 2007. 20 Sept. 2007 <>. 

Perry CL, Bishop DB, Taylor G, Murray DM, Mays RW, Dudovitz BS, et al. Changing fruit and vegetable consumption among children: The 5-a-day power plus program in St. Paul, Minnesota. American Journal of Public Health. 1998;88:603–609. [PubMed]

Solomon CG, Manson JE. Obesity and mortality: A review of the epidemiologic data. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1997;66:1044s–1050s. [PubMed]

Stice, Eric, Heather Shaw,  and C. Nathan Marti, comps. A Meta-Analytic Review of Obesity Prevention Programs for Children and Adolescents: the Skinny on Interventions That Work. 24 May 2007. University of Texas At Austin. 22 Sept. 2007 <>. 

Vandongen R, Jenner DA, Thompson C, Taggart AC, Spickett EE, Burke V, et al. A controlled evaluation of a fitness and nutrition intervention program on cardiovascular health in 10–12 year old children. Preventive Medicine. 1995;24:9–22. [PubMed]




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