What Is Childhood Obesity?
Obesity is defined as having too much body fat. Being overweight is having too much body weight for your height. Body mass index, or BMI, is used as a way of measuring if someone is overweight or obese. BMI is the preferred way for measuring children and young adults (ages 2–20) because it keeps in mind that they are still growing. It also takes into account that children and young adults grow at different speeds depending on their age and sex.
Health professionals use growth charts to see whether a child’s weight falls into a healthy range for the child’s height, age, and sex. Children with a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile are considered overweight. Children at or above the 95th percentile have obesity. About one in five school-aged children has obesity.
This is the BMI percentile range chart:
- • Underweight: Less than the 5th percentile
- • Normal or Healthy Weight: 5th percentile to less than the 85th percentile
- • Overweight: 85th to less than the 95th percentile
- • Obese: 95th percentile or greater
What are the health risks of childhood obesity?
Childhood obesity has short and long-term effects on the physical, social, and emotional health of children. For example:
- • Children with obesity have a higher risk for other chronic health conditions like asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
- • Children with obesity are bullied and teased more than children at a normal weight. Obese children are also more likely to be socially isolated, have depression, and lower self-esteem.
- • In the long term, childhood obesity can also lead to having obesity as an adult. Being obese as an adult is linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and several types of cancer.
What causes childhood obesity?
There are many things that can lead to childhood obesity, including:
- • Diet: regularly eating high-calorie foods, such as fast foods, baked goods, vending machine snacks, and sugary drinks, including fruit juices.
- • Lack of exercise: Children who do not exercise are more likely to gain weight because they do not burn as many calories.
- • Family genetics: If your child comes from a family of overweight people, he or she may be more likely to put on weight.
- • Stress: Personal, parental and family stress can cause some children to overeat to cope with stress.
- • Environment: People in communities with limited resources may opt for convenience foods that do not spoil quickly but are not as healthy. They also might not have access to a safe place to exercise.
What can you do to help prevent childhood overweight and obesity?
To help your child maintain a healthy weight, balance the calories from foods and beverages your child eats and drinks with the calories your child uses through physical activity and normal growth.
The goal for children who are overweight is to lower the rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Children should NOT be placed on a weight loss diet without talking to their health care provider.
Encourage healthy eating habits.
To help your children have healthy eating habits:
- • Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products.
- • Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products.
- • Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein.
- • Serve reasonably-sized portions.
- • Encourage your family to drink lots of water.
- • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages.
- • Limit consumption of sugar and saturated fat.
Balancing Calories: Help Kids Stay Active
In addition to being fun for children, regular physical activity has many health benefits, including strengthening bones, decreasing blood pressure, reducing stress, increasing self-esteem, and helping to manage their weight.
Children should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week, preferably daily. Some examples include:
- • Brisk walking
- • Playing tag
- • Jumping rope
- • Playing soccer
- • Swimming
- • Dancing
In addition to encouraging physical activity, help children avoid too much time sitting. Although quiet time sitting for reading and homework is fine, limit the time your children watch television, play video games, or surf the web to no more than 2 hours per day.
Childhood Overweight and Obesity. (2016). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.