Rates of overweight in North American children and adolescents have increased dramatically since the 1970s. Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions and calls for prevention and treatment programs to reverse this trend have been made. However, the evidence base needed for effective action is still incomplete, especially for childhood obesity prevention programs. This paper focuses on primary prevention of childhood obesity and has three aims: (1) to briefly describe current primary prevention approaches for childhood obesity and the evidence for their impact; (2) to elucidate promising, but untested intervention strategies using an ecological framework and evidence from experimental and epidemiological research on factors influencing children's eating and weight status; and (3) to introduce a multiphase strategy for screening intervention components and building and evaluating potent interventions for childhood obesity. Most childhood obesity prevention programs have focused on school-aged children and have had little success. We suggest that, given these findings, prevention efforts should be expanded to explore other contexts in which children live as possible settings for intervention efforts, including the family and childcare settings. Given that 25% of preschool children are already overweight, intervening with children before school entry should be a priority. A review of experimental research on the developing controls of food intake in infancy and childhood suggests possible intervention strategies, focusing on parenting and aspects of the feeding environment. Epidemiological findings point to even earlier modifiable risk factors, including gestational weight gain, maternal prepregnancy weight, and formula feeding. However, the potential impact of altering these risk factors remains to be evaluated. In response to this problem, we suggest a new, multiphase method for accomplishing this, including screening intervention components, refining intervention designs and confirming component efficacy to build and evaluate potent, optimized interventions.
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Conflict of interest
L Birch has received consulting fees from Kraft Foods and McCormicks and has received grant support from Dairy Management Inc. and the McCormick Foundation. The remaining author has declared no financial interests.
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Birch, L., Ventura, A. Preventing childhood obesity: what works?. Int J Obes 33 (Suppl 1), S74–S81 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2009.22
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