SparkPeople Needs Your Help Tackling Childhood Obesity

Editor's Note: SparkPeople first asked for your help in fighting childhood obesity a few years ago, but with the recent launch of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign to combat childhood obesity, we updated this article and added additional resources.

Turn on the news any night of the week, and you're likely to see a story about one of the many discouraging trends that contribute to the prevalence of overweight and obese children. As a result, parents, teachers, and other mentors have been looking for ways to get their kids off of the couch and playing outside, and persuade their teens to reach for an apple instead of a candy bar. wants to help you find solutions to keeping your kids healthy and active. With millions of parents visiting SparkPeople each month, we're uniquely qualified to work with our members to tackle this problem head on! Kids can learn from the healthy habits you are adopting on SparkPeople, and your choices can end up impacting the health of your entire family!

To tackle the childhood obesity epidemic, we started a Kids' Health SparkTeam for parents, teachers and everyone else interested in helping us lead the fight for kids health and against childhood obesity. With more than 45,000 members, this is a place to share strategies that will get kids excited about exercise; ask others what's working for their kids; and get ideas to improve the health of the children in your life. By starting small and building momentum as the Team grows, we can make a big difference!

So why do we need your help? We spend $150 billion each year on obesity-related ailments each year, according to the government, and for the first time in our history, American children may face a shorter expected lifespan than their parents. 

A 2007 Associated Press article revealed that the federal government spent $1 billion on nutrition education that year but that these education programs rarely change the way kids behave in the long-term:
  • A review of 57 trials (funded by the federal government) aimed at changing kids eating habits found that only 4 had successful results.
  • One program that rewarded children for eating fruits and vegetables was successful in the short-term. But after the program ended, researchers found that kids went back to eating what they had before.
  • Another study of 8 to 12-year-olds showed that kids see an average of 21 television ads each day for candy, snacks and other unhealthy foods. Only one of every 50 ads promoted healthy foods.
After reading such results, it's easy to get discouraged, but many other studies conclude that parents who successfully change their own attitudes and behaviors can dramatically increase the chances of changing their kids' habits too! Experts agree that parents influence what their kids eat and how much they exercise more than anyone else. Now, with the launch of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative to combat childhood obesity, which is uniting federal, state and local governments, along with the nonprofit and business sectors, there is even more hope than ever. SparkPeople can't wait to see what our members and experts can do to help! 

So are you ready to join us in the fight? Are you ready to make a difference in the health of the young people in your life? Let's do it! Join the Team today!
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Member Comments

Thank you for the article. Report
can kids join sparkpeople? are their groups for them? Report
What a wonderful, proactive idea to start a Spark Team for children.

I remember fondly that at 4 years old I was allowed to watch one hour of television in the morning and then told "go outside and play". I lived in the country on a farm and how fun was it to go exploring with the dogs, sometimes on horseback. Because of it I have a profound love for all things living, flora and fauna. If children saw the wonder of nature in a flower or a new-born calf perhaps there would be less violence. All lives matter.
The childhood obesity epidemic is vastly overstated, as is the adult obesity epidemic. Part of the problem is that a healthy weight is very narrowly construed now. When I look around, probably 3% of the adult population has a real weight problem, with a smaller percentage of children. Nevermind, that children are not like adults, they gain weight for many reasons, growth spurt, puberty, etc. I also have not seen a correlation between a chubby, not obese child, and weight problems as an adult. A chubby child does not necessarily have a problem, it might just be their nature, or a passing phase. While I agree that healthy food is important for children, as it is for everyone, and everyone needs activity. A healthy weight varies tremendously, so making assumptions about someone's diet because of their appearance is often incorrect. Report
I WAS that fat kid... I didn't know much about health and fitness, and was not athletic in any way shape or form. My family tried enrolling me in number of sports but I was lousy in all of them and preferred to stay home with a book. I think if at a younger age I was more aware of benefits of fitness and healthy eating I would have been more active and would have made better food choices. I would love to see health and gym classes in school starting at a younger age and promoting healthy habits. However, I agree that the parents have the biggest responsibility. Mine didn't know any better, but when I have my own children I will make sure to instill healthy habits and teach them by example. Report
It hutrs me to see fat kids. I had my nephew for 11 years and last year I gave him back to his mother now he weigh over 200 pounds. Ithurt my heart to see he gain all that weight. He was own his way to being a didiabetic when I took him. Report
My 7 year old grandson is overweight about 20lbs and he is hyper , and is on meds. for it,he still bounces off walls. He lives with his other grandmother. She feeds what he wants if he wants chicken nuggets and fries 5 times a week she gives it to him, but his favorite drink is water. They were up here last week-end and we went to store and she bought him a big ice cream instead of having him to eat what I cooked. He didn't want it , he wanted a chicken sandwich. I told her she need to put him in the boys and girls club after school it would be good for him,instead of playing video games and watching tv all the time.She replied he doesn't like sports. She doesn't know when the tv and videos are babysitting him all the time. Report
My 7 year old granddaughter is overweight and there is not a lot I can do about it, which makes me very sad for her :( She lives with her mother (who is NOT married to my son) and I only see her when my son has her. My son and his fiance feed her healthy food and have enrolled her in softball, which she loves. So she eats healthy and exercises when she's with them, but when she is with her mom, who knows? It breaks my heart to see her so heavy and I know that the kids in school are going to give her a hard time. I wish there was more I could do for her. Report
As a nation, we've spent a good number of years raising our citizens to NOT take responsibility for themselves. Think: "the government will do that." So, why would continuing this trend of expecting government initiated programs to make any long term change affect how we think & act???

Why the preponderance of law suits? Because somebody else is to blame!
And people are sadly rewarded for this stupidity.

People fail to think for themselves. They wait for someone else to tell them what to do & think. And if there is a problem, it is someone else's fault. We've raised a couple of generations of WIMPS who are afraid (and often unwilling) to work. {Think out-of-wedlock mom's having multiple babies & the government sends them a check.}

Where does the government get its money? On the backs of people who WORK for a living. Somehow to make things "equal", they get the idea that taking money away from the working people and giving it to the non-working (fill in the blank) should make it "fair". What a bunch of bunk!

Sounds like a ramble, but it really IS all related. Government programs are NOT going to fix people's problems, no matter how "good" or well-meaning they may be. Get government OUT of our lives. Let people experience the full consequences of their actions. Forget bailing out STUPID and let the old-fashioned school of "hard-knocks" get back in fashion to teach people on their own. Report
Big loud "amen." My heart breaks every time I see a fat kid, and I instantly say a prayer for God's intervention into his life. To me, each extra pound is a pound of pain, rejection, and loneliness that the poor baby carries around on his back wherever he goes. Report
I'm not surprised so many programs don't work, because they don't get to the root of the problem. Why are companies getting away with producing and marketing masses and masses of unhealthy food products? Personal choice is fine and dandy but do you really think corporations would spend so much money on advertising if it didn't have the desired effect of increasing their profits? As the article points out, they have millions at their disposal while any programs to promote healthy living are trying to get their message out on a shoestring budget.

How about hefty taxes on junk food, that the corporations have to pay, taxes that go directly into healthy living programs? Of course they will pass the cost on to the consumer, which would make junk food an unattractive economic choice. Either way it's win-win. Self-regulation by industry doesn't work but it seems government doesn't have the guts to take tough measures.

As a child I was overweight and ultimately turned into an adult constantly fighting the yo-yo dieting battle. Bring back gym class in school!! Report
I'd like to comment on the article. I agree that we need to teach children about the importance of good nutrition and exercise. However, may I make another suggestion?

When I was in school, I was not athletic, not a fast runner, and not very competitive, and therefore felt really really uncomfortable in all my gym classes. I think this is where I learned to hate to exercise, because I wasn't good at it, and the grades I would get always screwed up my grade point average. I think that schools can teach even non-athletic kids the importance of physical activity by allowing kids to get "extra" gym credit. Parents would have to sign off on a sheet, and kids could choose to do whatever activity they wanted, at least 20 minutes a day. Anything - walking, riding a bike, jumping rope, playing tag with friends, playing catch with your brother, etc. would count. It would give the kids some responsibility for their own health, would allow them to pick an activity they like themselves, and would also get parents involved.

I know I would have done stuff like this if I had the chance to earn extra credit, because I didn't like the competitiveness of my gym class. That was the turn off. And I would have just once liked to have earned an A in gym class!!! Report
This is a great article. I am doing a paper on Childhood Obesity, so this is very relevant to me right now. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this problem; a solution requires a massive shift in the way we think about food, the way that food is promoted to our children, the way it is processed and packaged...It's a massive undertaking! Report
This is what my thesis is on! I hope once I am finished implementing my program, I can share the results with the TEAM:) Report


About The Author

Jen Mueller
Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach and medical exercise specialist, with additional certifications in behavior change, functional training and senior fitness. She is also a RRCA-certified running coach. See all of Jen's articles.