Reducing Your Risk of Obesity

Genetic factors do play a role in obesity, but you can generally prevent obesity with a healthful diet and regular exercise.

Eat a Balanced, Healthful Diet

Recommendations for a healthful diet change periodically as research evolves—and fads come and go. Current dietary recommendations can be found at the US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services, which outlines dietary guidelines for Americans.

Consult your doctor or a dietitian about an appropriate number of calories for you to eat each day. Ask for ideas that will help you maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if necessary.

If you have special dietary needs because of a medical condition, consult with your doctor. Ask for a referral to a registered dietitian for more personalized help.

Other factrors that can contribute to developing healthy eating may include:

  • Eating family meals.
  • Thinking about the kinds of beverages that you typically choose. For example, if you like to have a 12-ounce can of regular soda with your lunch, this drink adds about 150 calories to your meal. For a healthier option, have a glass of water or a diet soda instead. You can quench your thirst without the extra calories.
  • Paying attention to how food is prepared. Foods cooked or seasoned with high amounts of fat can quickly increase calories.
  • Limiting fast food, take-out, and dining out.
  • When grocery shopping, choose healthy foods.
  • Focus on unprocessed foods.
  • Cook less food at mealtime and don't bring it all to the table.

Factors to consider in children

  • Give your child healthy lunches and snacks to take to school. This may keep your child from buying unhealthy options at school.
  • Do not use sweets as a reward for good behavior or test scores. Think of other, more active rewards.
  • Set a good example by:
    • Preparing healthy meals at home. Children are strongly influenced by their parents behavior.
    • Eating together as a family.
  • Teach your child how to make good choices in the grocery store.
  • Teach your child about proper portion sizes. Your child may be able to continue eating favorite foods, just in smaller portion sizes.
  • Focus on healthy foods your child can eat. Do not eliminate all sweets and treats. Overdoing this may make your child want them more. Include occasional treats in proper amounts.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise burns calories, takes your mind off eating, and helps prevent a number of medical conditions. It also increases your metabolic rate long after you are done exercising, which helps you to burn more calories throughout the day, even when you are at rest.

Regardless of your weight and health status, there is an exercise program that will work for you. Talk to your doctor or a qualified exercise professional about working physical activity into your daily life. This may include walking more on your errands, going to the gym, or taking up activities such as biking, swimming, dancing, golf, or tennis. You do not have to be an athlete to stay in shape. If you are not used to exercise, aim for a moderate intensity of physical activity, but do it regularly.

Adults should aim for 150 minutes per week and children for 60 minutes per day.

Consider Counseling    TOP

Consider counseling or behavior therapy if you feel that stress or emotions are playing a role in your eating habits. Obesity is often associated with unhelpful thought patterns related to your social image and frustration with attempts to lose weight. Often these thoughts can be a barrier to success. Consider counseling if you think such attitudes stand in your way.

Behavior therapy may help you understand:

  • When you tend to overeat
  • Why you tend to overeat
  • How to combat overeating tendencies

Sleep Well    TOP

Sleep is very important for good health, especially in children. Studies have found that shorter sleep duration in children has been associated with increased risk for obesity. Ten-year-olds should be getting at least nine hours of sleep every night, and five-year-olds should be getting at least 11 hours of sleep. On weekends and holidays, many children and teens want to sleep late to make up for their lack of sleep during the school week. Studies have found that this extra sleep may reduce your child's risk of being overweight or obese.

Other Preventive Measures    TOP

Breastfeeding for at least 6 months.

Encouraging school systems to provide adequate health and nutrition education and opportunities.



Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: Accessed February 23, 2017.
Obesity. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
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Update December 2016. Accessed February 23, 2017.
Obesity in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated November 20, 2016. Accessed February 23, 2017.
Obesity in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. http://www.dynamed.... Updated January 30, 2017. Accessed February 23, 2017.
Screening and prevention. Available at:
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Updated February 23, 2017. Accessed February 23, 2017.
Tips for parents—ideas to help children maintain a healthy weight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated July 6, 2016. Accessed February 23, 2017.
12/14/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Wing YK, Li SX, Li AM, Zhang J, Kong AP. The effect of weekend and holiday sleep compensation on childhood overweight and obesity. Pediatrics. 2009;124(5):e994-e1000.
Last reviewed February 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 2/23/2017


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