Childhood Obesity Facts

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CDC

Overview

The percentage of children with obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s.1 Today, about one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) has obesity.1

Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.3 Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors.3 Body mass index, or BMI, is a widely used screening tool for measuring both overweight and obesity. BMI percentile is preferred for measuring children and young adults (ages 2–20) because it takes into account that they are still growing, and growing at different rates 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 at or above the 85th percentile and less than the 95th percentile are considered overweight.
  • Children at or above the 95th percentile have obesity.

For more information about how BMI is measured in children: About Child & Teen BMI

For more information about BMI measurement in school settings: Body Mass Index (BMI) Measurement in Schools

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.4, 5, 15-17
  • 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.19
  • 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.24–25

Energy Balance and Causes of Obesity

Many factors contribute to childhood obesity, including4-6

  • Genetics
  • Metabolism—how your body changes food and oxygen into energy it can use
  • Eating and physical activity behaviors
  • Environmental factors
  • Social and individual psychology

Over time, consuming more energy from foods and beverages than the body uses for healthy functioning, growth, and physical activity, leads to extra weight gain.7, 8 Energy imbalance is a key factor9 behind the high rates of obesity seen in the United States and globally.7, 10–11

The dietary and physical activity behaviors of children and adolescents are influenced by many sectors of society, including families, communities, schools, child care settings, medical care providers, faith-based institutions, government agencies, the media, and the food and beverage industries and entertainment industries.4, 12, 13

Changes in the environments where children spend their time—like homes, schools, and community settings—can help children achieve and maintain a healthy weight by making it easier to eat nutritious foods, get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily, watch less television, and eat fewer foods and beverages high in added sugars or solid fats.4, 14

Supporting Students With Obesity

Some data show that children with obesity miss more days of school compared to students with normal weights.22  Missed days of school, whether due to illness or to avoid weight-based bullying,23 can make it hard to keep up academically. Many experts believe schools are a key setting for efforts to prevent childhood obesity.4, 5, 24, 25 Looking across multiple studies, teams of scientists have found that a comprehensive school-based approach is effective at preventing obesity.26, 27

This kind of comprehensive approach supports school nutrition and physical activity environments and makes connections beyond the school day by involving parents and caregivers, as well as other community members. These kinds of changes in the school environment can support the health and well-being of all students—regardless of their weight. Most of this research includes elementary and middle school-aged children; scientists know less about the effectiveness of school-based approaches for preventing obesity among teenagers.26, 27

read more at CDC

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