Methods That Allow Nurses to Improve Exercise and Nutrition in Childhood Obesity

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Childhood obesity has been a growing epidemic within American culture for many years, and the problem continues to grow. Obesity in children has been associated with a large number of health issues including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, as well as a variety of mental health issues (Northrup, Cottrell, Wittberg, 2008). The rise in childhood obesity has been contributed to many factors including an overall lack of physical activity and exercise. Children are spending more time than ever doing sedentary activities like watching television, following the new gaming trends, and sitting at a computer or other electronic device. Additionally, children are consuming large amounts of high calorie and high fat convenience foods rather than whole grains, lean meats, fruits and vegetables. The research supporting the growing need for more preventative programs has grown significantly. There are a variety of methods and programs that have been proposed through research as potentially being the answer to tackling childhood obesity. 

Nurses are often the medical professionals that have the most contact with patients. Nurses are also more active in school and community settings, which make them the ideal candidates to get involved in community and/or school-based preventative health programs. The question of how nurses can take a more active role in the prevention of childhood obesity is important to the field of nursing and nursing research because nurses are such a valuable resource in preventative care. Utilizing the most current research will enable nurses to get involved with and help initiate programs that will effectively address the issues regarding childhood obesity. These issues address both children who are currently obese and child at risk of obesity. Additionally, as mentioned previously, the causal factors of childhood obesity are both lack of activity and poor nutrition. Nurses are a valuable resource for the implementation of programs because they are capable of maintaining a health-focus. Additionally, nurses are valuable when working with children that may already be suffering the negative health effects of obesity. 

While searching the available research on childhood obesity and programs designed to combat and prevent childhood obesity, several databases were utilized. These included CINHAL, Medline, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, OVID and Sage Premier. There were a wide variety of articles available through each of these databases that addressed childhood obesity. There has been a great deal of research conducted on the topic. The research articles found for this analysis are providing analytic overviews of studies done into specific aspects of childhood obesity. They also provide a clear analysis of individual programs, which allow the readers to gain a better understanding of each program’s successes and failures. 

When doing a review of literature, it is essential to be mindful of gaps or inconsistencies found throughout the literature. In this case, the gaps included the specific application of the information to the field of nursing. While in most cases, application can be inferred and the role of school nurses was referred to in some studies, many do not specifically address the role or potential role of nurses in the programs being studies. They examine casual factors related to childhood obesity and the effectiveness of programs designed to counteract childhood obesity, but they do not include an analysis of how child obesity can be treated or prevented with nurses playing an active role in the suggested programs. Aside from that, there were no inconsistencies found in the research. There is an overall consensus regarding the causal factors or childhood obesity, as well as what needs to be done to decrease and prevent childhood obesity. Although the studies looked at different causal factors and different prevention programs, there was an overall consensus of the facts. 

The first article examined was titled, “L.I.F.E.: A School-Based Heart-Health Screening and Intervention Program” (2008), and it explained the research conducted by Karen Northrop, Lesley Cottrell and Richard Wittberg. This study examined the program L.I.F.E., which is a school-based program with a two-part goal of identify cardiovascular risk factors in students and their families and provide counseling, education and opportunities for the students and their families to learn how to change their risk factors (Northrup, Cottrell, Wittberg, 2008). The examination of this program showed it to be a successful and well-rounded program. Another program examined was Project Fit, which was studied by Eisenmann et al. (2011). Project FIT is a project conducted by a diverse group of people and interest groups in order to promote physical activity and healthy eating (Eisenmann, 2011). Project FIT created a multi-faceted program that address both the concerns of the school and health officials and the problems facing the youth. Richard Lowry, Sarah Lee, Mary McKenna, Deborah Galluska, and Laura Kann (2008) researched the intake of fruits and vegetables among American high school students as well as their overall weight management. They found that only between 21% and 25% of high school students were eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, which played an important role in weight management (Lowry, Lee, McKenna, Galluska, and Kann, 2008). Kristi Adamo, Jane Rutherford, and Gary Goldfield examined the use of interactive cycling video games on overall weight management and activity levels (2010). Their study essentially found that any physical activity, regardless of the format was beneficial. The final study, “Interventions for treating obesity in children” (2009) provided an examination of various weight loss methods for children. They found that lifestyle changes were significantly important to weight loss results after 6 and 12 months (Oude et al., 2009). Each of these studies contribute the overall base of knowledge on childhood obesity treatment and prevention. 

The implication of this research includes the need for lifestyle changes for families, as well as their children. While childhood obesity is clearly a problem, the sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits is a reflection of their home life. Parents and other caregivers can choose to raise children to be more active and eat better. However, in many cases, the parents and caregivers also have sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits and high cholesterol. This also implies that education on good nutrition and physical activity will need to be extended to families in order to create and encourage lasting change. 

A limitation to the study of literature includes the vast array of knowledge. There are so many studies conducted on the many aspects of childhood obesity that including a well-rounded look at the available research is difficult. It is nearly impossible to include every possible factor of childhood obesity into one study. The mass of information limits the amount of information that can be included in a literature review. Additionally, there are so many factors affecting the increase in childhood obesity that it may be difficult to address all the reasons a child may be lacking in physical activity and healthy nutrition. 

Future nursing research may continue the focus on childhood obesity but look specifically at the role of nurses in preventing and decreasing childhood obesity. This can include and examination of the role of nurses within school systems, community programs, and more. Since not all schools have full-time nurses or nurse-led programs, it would be very revealing to examine the differences between these schools and schools that do offer nurse-led programs on healthy nutritional and physical activity. Likewise, nurse-led community programs can be examined to determine their overall effectiveness and feasibility. Widening the research specifically on the role of nurses can provide insight into what more nurses can do to contribute to the overall solution. 


Adamo, K., Rutherford, J., & Goldfield, G. (2010). Effects of interactive video game cycling on overweight and obese adolescent health. Appl. Physiol Nutr. Metab., 35, 805-815.

Eisenmann, J., Alaimo, K., Randall, S., Mayfield, K., Holmes, D., Pfeiffer, K., et al. (2011). Project FIT: Rationale, design and baseline characteristics of a school- and community-based intervention to address physical activity and healthy eating among low-income elementary school children. BMC Public Health, 11(607), 1-10.

Lowry, R., Lee, S., McKenna, M., Galuska, D., & Kann, L. (2008). Weight Management and Fruit and Vegetable Intake Among US High School Students*. Journal of School Health, 78(8), 417-424.

Luttikhuis, O., Bauer, L., Jansen, H., Shrewsbury, V., O'Malley, C., Stolk, R., et al. (2009). Interventions for treating obesity in children. The Cochrane Library, 1, 1-177.

Northrup, K., Cottrell, L., & Wittberg, R. (2008). L.I.F.E.: A School-Based Heart-Health Screening and Intervention Program. The Journal of School Nursing, 24(1), 28-35.