Youth & Obesity

The percentage of children with obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s. Today, about one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) has obesity.

Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors.

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 at or above the 85th percentile and less than the 95th percentile are considered overweight. Children at or above the 95th percentile have obesity.

Childhood Obesity and Child Wellbeing

Childhood obesity has immediate and long-term impacts on physical, social, and emotional health. For example:

Children with obesity are at higher risk for having other chronic health conditions and diseases that impact physical health, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and risk factors for heart disease.

Children with obesity are bullied and teased more than their normal weight peers,18 and are more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem.

In the long term, childhood obesity also is associated with having obesity as an adult,23  which is linked to serious conditions and diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and several types of cancer.

Why is childhood obesity considered a health problem?

Doctors and scientists are concerned about the rise of obesity in children and youth because obesity may lead to the following health problems:

  • Heart disease, caused by:
    • high cholesterol and/or
    • high blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • Social discrimination

See these additional resources:

What can I do as a parent or guardian to help prevent childhood overweight and obesity?

To help your child maintain a healthy weight, balance the calories your child consumes from foods and beverages with the calories your child uses through physical activity and normal growth.

Remember that the goal for overweight and obese children and teens is to reduce the rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Children and teens should NOT be placed on a weight reduction diet without the consultation of a health care provider.

Balancing Calories: Help Kids Develop Healthy Eating Habits

One part of balancing calories is to eat foods that provide adequate nutrition and an appropriate number of calories. You can help children learn to be aware of what they eat by developing healthy eating habits, looking for ways to make favorite dishes healthier, and reducing calorie-rich temptations.

Encourage healthy eating habits.

There’s no great secret to healthy eating. To help your children and family develop 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.

Remember that small changes every day can lead to a recipe for success!

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