What do I need to know about obesity in children?

Childhood obesity is growing at an alarming rate and statistics show that children who are obese will grow up to be obese adults.

Childhood obesity has the same basic cause as adult obesity: too many calories are consumed and there is not enough physical activity. Children do need extra nutrients and calories for growth and will gain weight in proportion to that growth. But when children eat more calories than they need, they gain weight. Some genetic diseases and hormonal disorders also cause childhood obesity, but those affect a small number of children.

Doctors determine childhood obesity by calculating a child’s body mass index (BMI). They compare that to a national BMI-for-age growth chart. The chart allows a doctor to compare the child’s BMI to other children of the same sex and age. If a child’s BMI is between the 85th and 94th percentiles (that means that between 85 and 94 percent of children of that age have a lower BMI), the child is overweight. If BMI is at the 95th percentile or above, the child is obese. The doctor also looks at family history, the child’s eating habits and activity level to determine healthy weight.

The best way to prevent – and treat -- childhood obesity is for children to eat a healthy diet and increase their physical activity. Parents must make sure they provide the right foods (such as fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks) and limit the times the family eats out. It is also good for parents to make sure their children are physically active, even if they just go outside and play. Weight loss drugs and surgery are available for adolescents, but they are rarely used and do not replace the need for a healthy diet and regular physical activity.

To learn more:

Obesity in Children
WebMD provides a summary of childhood obesity and what parents can do to promote healthy habits in their families.
Obesity in Children
Links to sites reviewed by librarians at the National Library of Medicine. Topics covered include overviews, treatment, prevention, nutrition, and links for children and teens.
BMI Percentile Calculator for Child and Teen
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
With this child and teen BMI Calculator, parents can figure out whether their child may be overweight or obese.
Let’s Move
This Web site is a part of a national initiative started by Former First Lady Michelle Obama to fight childhood obesity. Get tips on getting children to eat healthy and be more active. There is also a kids’ section.
We Can!
(National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)
We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition) is a program to help children 8 to 13 stay at a healthy weight. The Website provides parents with tools and activities to encourage healthy eating, increased physical activity and reduced time in front of the television or computer. Also in Spanish.

next » Where can I go for help and more information about obesity and obesity prevention?

Written by: Maya Hollinshead B.A.
Reviewed by: Jeffrey G. Schultze, M.D.
Last Modified: Thursday November 07, 2019 3:39 PM