Science of Parenting: What Can Parents Do about Childhood Obesity?

AMES, Iowa -- Overweight kids often become overweight adults, gaining not only weight, but also the associated chronic diseases — like diabetes and heart disease — and the related health care costs. Iowa State University Extension examines what parents can do about this serious health problem in this month’s Science of Parenting radio program podcast.

Measuring overweight and obesity in children is complicated, because children naturally gain weight as they get older, according to Gregory Welk, associate professor of kinesiology and director of clinical research and outreach for the Nutrition and Wellness Research Center at Iowa State.

Welk discusses childhood obesity and keeping kids active with program host Douglas Gentile, an ISU Extension specialist and associate professor of psychology, and co-host Mike Murray, who brings the “parent-on-the-street perspective” to the program.

“Physicians have these very well established growth charts that parents are generally familiar with — based on norms from the Centers for Disease Control and what defines healthy growth,” Welk said. “But it is very complicated in children, because their BMI (body mass index) value shifts naturally as they get older. Physicians often only pay attention to BMI values if a child reaches a level that indicates risk of overweight or obesity — 85th or 95th percentile. Unfortunately, by this time it is often hard to reverse the growth patterns.”

A more effective strategy is for physicians to help parents understand the importance of healthy eating and regular physical activity for preventing obesity. Welk and colleague Michelle Ihmels have developed the Family Nutrition and Physical Activity (FNPA) behaviorally based screening tool that physicians could use to help a family evaluate their home environment.

“This provides a way to target factors that may influence a future risk for overweight.” Welk said.

“In addition to helping children eat healthy, parents need to find ways to help their child be active on a daily basis,” Welk added. “It doesn’t require a structured activity or a lesson. It’s simply opening the door and encouraging them to go out – and not taking no for an answer.”

Welk continued, “Kids are active because they’re kids. We want to capitalize on children’s general interest in moving. If you provide opportunities for them, they will move. Then the goal is to keep them motivated and help them develop active lifestyles they can maintain as they get older, and transition that into an adult pattern of activity.”

Doug and Mike Science of ParentingDownload Science of Parenting Podcasts

The childhood obesity podcast is available for free download from the Science of Parenting website,, or can be subscribed to in iTunes. Each month a new, 30-minute Science of Parenting program, as well as previous programs, will be available, as well as blog posts and other research-based parenting information.

Learn more about co-hosts Douglas Gentile and Mike Murray.


Gregory Welk, Nutrition and Wellness Research Center, 515-294-3583,