Childhood Obesity

Note: In 2011, AOTA identified childhood obesity as an emerging niche in occupational therapy. It has since become more mainstream, so newer content appears elsewhere on this site. This page has been retained for historical information. Learn more about the 2011 Emerging Niche series here.

Childhood ObesityWhy emerging? The rise of obesity in Americans has affected adults and children alike—childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.1 When first lady Michelle Obama turned her focus to eliminating childhood obesity, she made the issue a national topic.2 Celebrity chefs are tackling school nutrition, and other public figures are trying to help kids become more active.3 Occupational therapy can also a play an important role.

Get Involved! When the special education cooperative that Deborah Daniel, OTR/L, works for started receiving an increasing number of referrals for assisting students challenged by obesity, the staff were limited by budget constraints. The children referred had trouble meeting the physical demands of a typical school day but were in general education, so it was difficult for the special education therapists to provide any direct services. They partnered with the occupational therapy program at University of Illinois-Chicago and the OT students assisted in developing weekly activities that promoted health and fitness. The OT students' participation helped address the budget issues, and the staff therapists volunteered their time and efforts. 

Daniels suggests that practitioners interested in starting a similar program to combat childhood obesity should individualize the program, taking into consideration the specific needs of the children and the resources available in the community. "Many interventions can be put in place with minimal expense and within time constraints," she says. Partnering with a local occupational therapy program and getting local businesses involved also provides opportunities for resources, volunteers, and giveaways. "Community businesses donated water bottles, which we provided to students after they participated in the program."

She also mentions that occupational therapy practitioners should assist families in identifying sources for healthy foods and resources for exercise and activity in the area. "Children buy into the positive effects of healthy eating and exercises when given the opportunities to make good choices that are fun and easy," says Daniel. "Placing the emphasis on the positive—such as fitness—promotes broader participation rather than emphasizing a sensitive topic such as obesity or losing weight."



  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Health youth! Childhood obesity. Retrieved April 28, 2011, from
  2. Let's Move. (2011). American's move to raise a healthier generation of kids. Retrieved April 28, 2011, from 
  3. Gavin, P. (2010, May 18). More celebs against obesity. Retrieved April 28, 2011, from