Overweight and Obesity in Childhood

Children are diagnosed as being overweight or obese if their weight is more than what is considered healthy, when taking into account their height.

Obesity now affects 17% of all children and adolescents in the U.S. This is triple the rate from just one generation ago.

What are the consequences of childhood obesity?

Childhood obesity can have a harmful effect on the body in a variety of ways. Obese children are more likely to have:

  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). In one study, 70% of obese children had at least one CVD risk factor, and 39% had two or more.
  • Increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort.
  • Breathing problems, such as sleep apnea, and asthma.
  • Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort.
  • Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux (i.e., heartburn).
  • Obese children and adolescents have a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood.

Obese children are more likely to become obese adults. And obesity in adulthood is more likely to be severe in those whoere were overweight as children. Adult obesity is associated with a number of serious health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

Type 2 diabetes was once rare in American children. Now it accounts for many newly diagnosed cases of diabetes. Also, overweight children are more likely to become overweight or obese as adults, with the same risks for disease.

Body Mass Index

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is the most useful measure of someone being overweight and obese. The BMI is determined by using the person's height and weight. Being overweight is defined differently for children and teens than it is for adults. Because children are still growing and boys and girls mature at different rates, BMIs for children and teens compare their heights and weights against growth charts that take age and sex into account.

Other methods of estimating body fat and body fat distribution include measurements of skinfold thickness and waist circumference, calculation of waist-to-hip circumference ratios, and techniques such as ultrasound, computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Key Step To Prevent Becoming Overweight or Obese

  • Staying at a healthy weight and preventing overweight and obesity can be achieved through living a healthy lifestyle. Because lifetime habits begin in childhood, it’s important for parents and families to create habits that encourage healthy food choices and physical activity early in life.
  • Follow a healthy eating plan. Make healthful food choices, keep your and your family’s calorie needs in mind, and focus on the balance of energy IN and energy OUT.
  • Focus on portion size. Watch the size of portions in fast food and other restaurants. The portions served are often enough for two or three people. Children’s portion sizes should be smaller than those for adults. Cutting back on portion size is a sure way to help keep energy IN and energy OUT in balance.
  • Be active. Make personal and family time active. Find activities that everyone will enjoy. For example, go for a brisk walk, bike or rollerblade, or train together for a walk or run.
  • Reduce screen time. Limit the use of TVs, computers, DVDs, and video games, because they crowd out time for physical activity. Health experts recommend 2 hours or less a day of screen time that’s not work- or homework-related.
  • Keep track of weight and other measurements. Monitor your weight, body mass index, and waist circumference on a regular basis. Also, keep track of your children’s growth

Reference: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

Last updated May 2017

This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply to you and your personal medical needs. This information should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your physician or health care professional.

Communicate promptly with your physician or other health care professional with any health-related questions or concerns.

Be sure to follow specific instructions given to you by your physician or health care professional.

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