Creating a Healthy-Weight Environment for Kids

Greater attention to factors that affect food intake and physical activity patterns can help create a healthy-weight environment.
Creating a Healthy Weight Environment for Kids
Experts look at the environment that affects food intake and body weight from an evolutionary perspective. To survive, early humans ate food whenever it was available—and periods of abundance and scarcity were the norm. Today, however, we live in a world of food abundance, so the current rates of obesity are not surprising. It is simply a consequence of living in an environment where food is everywhere, and there are few requirements for physical activity.

Researchers believe that greater attention needs to focus on those aspects of the environment that have the greatest impact on food intake and physical activity patterns. In this context, changing the availability and type of foods is important. This includes considering the nutritional composition and portion sizes of foods.1

Foods in the Environment
Numerous studies have looked at environmental factors that affect weight. These include what foods are eaten. For example, eating strategies that limit sweetened beverages and "supersized" portions have been associated with weight loss.2 Researchers have shown that choosing more whole-grains foods and those that are high in fiber help to control weight gain. In a study of women over a 12-year period of time, those who ate more whole-grain, high-fiber foods and fewer refined-grain products gained the least amount of weight.3

Behavior in the Environment
The source of foods and where they are eaten are also important factors that affect weight. In a study of women in Australia, those who maintained a healthier weight were less likely to order in foods into their homes.4 Interestingly, these healthier-weight women also spent less time sitting.

Other factors related to the home environment also have been shown to impact weight—in particular, television viewing. Studies reveal that the amount of time spent in front of a television screen contributes to weight gain.5 And, both television viewing and listening to a recorded story on tape while eating have been shown to increase meal size.6 The bottom line: Creating a healthy-weight environment includes choosing wholesome foods and focusing on the food during meals without any distractions.

This content is reviewed regularly. Last updated November 12, 2012.

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Other Science Library Topics:

Cutting Calories: Portion Control, Energy Density

Health Benefits of Exercise


1Lowe, MR. Self-regulation of energy intake in the prevention and treatment of obesity: is it feasible? Obes. Res. 2003 Oct;11 Suppl:44S-59S.

2Liebman M, Pelican S, Moore SA, Holmes B, Wardlaw MK, Melcher LM, Liddil AC, Paul LC, Dunnagan T, Haynes GW. Dietary intake, eating behavior, and physical activity-related determinants of high body mass index in rural communities in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003 Jun;27(6):684-92.

3Liu S, Willett WC, Manson JE, Hu FB, Rosner B, Colditz G. Relation between changes in intakes of dietary fiber and grain products and changes in weight and development of obesity among middle-aged women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Nov;78(5):920-7.

4Ball K, Brown W, Crawford D. Who does not gain weight? Prevalence and predictors of weight maintenance in young women. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2002 Dec;26(12):1570-8.

5Salmon J, Bauman A, Crawford D, Timperio A, Owen N. The association between television viewing and overweight among Australian adults participating in varying levels of leisure-time physical activity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000 May;24(5):600-6.

6Bellisle F, Dalix AM, Slama G. Non food-related environmental stimuli induce increase meal intake in health women: comparison of television viewing versus listening to a recorded story in laboratory settings. Appetite. 2004 Oct;43(2):175-80.