Advocating for the Prevention of Childhood Obesity: A Call to Action for Nursing

Article excerpt


In this article the authors provide a background for the discussion of childhood obesity, examine factors contributing to overweight and obesity in children, review the literature describing interventions and prevention strategies for childhood overweight, and describe nursing skills to prevent childhood obesity. The literature supports a family-focused approach to influencing dietary habits of very young children, prevention interventions that start early in childhood prior to established poor dietary patterns, and the need for community support and involvement. Given these findings, nurses are encouraged to develop skills, such as advocacy, collaborative leadership, and social marketing skills, that will contribute to the prevention of childhood obesity.

Citation: Berkowitz, B., Borchard, M., "Advocating for the Prevention of Childhood Obesity: A Call to Action for Nursing" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 14, No. 1. Manuscript 2. Available:

Key Words: advocacy and policy role for preventing childhood obesity; childhood obesity; childhood overweight; collaborative leadership; community centered approaches to preventing childhood obesity; nursing role in preventing childhood obesity; prevention of childhood obesity; race, ethnicity, and childhood obesity; recommendations for preventing childhood obesity; social marketing

I (B.B.) recently returned to the United States (US) from a trip to Rwanda for which I served as the leader of a delegation of nurses sponsored by the People-to-People Ambassador Program. Our goal was to observe and learn from our nursing counterparts in Rwanda and to gain a better understanding of the health and societal challenges and opportunities in this remarkable country. One observation difficult to miss was the near absence of obesity in the adult or child population. Because malnutrition plays a significant role in the poor health status of many Rwandan people, we would expect issues of weight, both underweight and potentially overweight to be a problem. However, we certainly did not see evidence of obesity or overweight. We also learned and observed during our trip that the Rwandan people, in particular the women and children, have few sweets in their diet and engage in daily moderate-to-strenuous utilitarian physical activity and exercise. On returning to the US, I was struck by the overwhelming contrast of the Rwandan people and our own adult and child obesity rates.

...nurses must take a leadership role in responding to the epidemic of obesity. Our society faces many challenges in adequately responding to the epidemic of obesity. I am now more convinced than ever that here in the US (and elsewhere) nurses must take a leadership role in responding to the epidemic of obesity. The obesity challenge does not seem to reflect a complete lack of knowledge on the part of our society because the problems associated with obesity, particularly in children, are well documented in the scientific literature, popular media, and press. Rather, the challenge relates to our society's ability/inability to act on that knowledge. A wide range of factors lessens the likelihood that our knowledge will be followed by action. These factors present nurses with the opportunity for both advocacy and action in changing those societal conditions that hamper our ability to prevent overweight and obesity, particularly in children.

This article will examine opportunities for advocacy and action by nurses. After providing background information on childhood obesity, the authors address factors contributing to childhood overweight and obesity, discuss interventions and strategies that have been used to prevent childhood obesity, and offer skills nurses can develop as they work to prevent childhood obesity, including advocacy, collaborative leadership, and social marketing skills. …


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