By Aaron Burch
Doctors for Healthy Communities

(Note: Most of the information published in this article was obtained from the Centers for Disease Control website, Please check with your physician for more information.)

Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States, putting children and adolescents at risk for poor health. Even as education increases, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents remains too high.

Obesity is determined by measurement of the Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of height in meters. For children and teens, BMI is age- and sex-specific and is often referred to as BMI-for-age.

Click Here to Calculate Child and Teen BMI.

Statistics for Children and Adolescents Age 2-19

  • The prevalence of obesity was 18.5% and affected about 13.7 million children and adolescents.
  • Obesity prevalence was 13.9% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 18.4% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6% among 12- to 19-year-olds. Childhood obesity is also more common among certain populations.
  • Hispanics (25.8%) and non-Hispanic blacks (22.0%) had higher obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic whites (14.1%).
  • Non-Hispanic Asians (11.0%) had lower obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics.


Socioeconomic Status and Obesity

  • The prevalence of obesity decreased with increasing level of education of the household head among children and adolescents ages 2-19 years.
  • Obesity prevalence was 18.9% among children and adolescents ages 2-19 years in the lowest income group, 19.9% among those in the middle-income group, and 10.9% among those in the highest income group.
  • Obesity prevalence was lower in the highest income group among non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic Asian, and Hispanic girls. Obesity prevalence did not differ by income among non-Hispanic black girls.
  • Obesity disproportionately affects children from low-income families. In 2014, 14.5% of the “Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) participants aged 2 to 4 years of age had obesity.
  • The prevalence of obesity was higher among Hispanic (17.3%) and American Indian/Alaska Native (18.0%) young children than among those who were non-Hispanic white (12.2%), non-Hispanic black (11.9%), or Asians/Pacific Islander (11.1%).


How Behavior and Environment Shape Health

Behaviors such as eating high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks, not getting enough physical activity, sitting for long periods to watch television or play video games, and not getting enough sleep greatly impact physical and mental health.

Adolescents who maintain a healthy diet and are physically active will grow up healthier and are much likelier to stay at a healthy weight through childhood. Balancing energy or calories consumed from foods and beverages with the calories burned through activity plays a role in preventing excess weight gain. In addition, eating healthy and being physically active also has other health benefits and helps to prevent chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

It can be difficult for children and parents to make healthy food choices and get enough physical activity when they are exposed to environments that do not support healthy habits. Places such as child care centers, schools, or communities can affect diet and activity through the foods and drinks they offer and the opportunities for physical activity they provide. Other community factors that affect diet and physical activity include the affordability of healthy food options, peer and social supports, marketing and promotion, and policies that determine how a community is designed.

Consequences of Obesity

More Immediate Health Risks
Obesity during childhood can have a harmful effect on the body in a variety of ways. Children who have obesity are more likely to have:

  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
  • Increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Breathing problems, such as asthma and sleep apnea.
  • Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort.
  • Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux (i.e., heartburn).

Childhood obesity is also related to:

  • Psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
  • Low self-esteem and lower self-reported quality of life.
  • Social problems such as bullying and stigma.

Future Health Risks

  • Children who have obesity are more likely to become adults with obesity. Adult obesity is associated with increased risk of a number of serious health conditions including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
  • If children have obesity, their obesity and disease risk factors in adulthood are likely to be more severe.


What Can You Do?

Although obesity is associated with a number of serious medical conditions, it is treatable and manageable. Weight loss provides many short- and long-term health benefits. Health care providers recommend obese achieve major improvements in health status by losing just 10 percent of their body weight. Remember to always check with your health care provider before beginning any diet and/or exercise program.

Create an Active Environment for Families

  • Make time for the whole family to take part in regular physical activities that everyone enjoys. Try walking, bicycling or outside activities.
  • Assign active chores to every family member such as vacuuming, washing the car or mowing the lawn. Change the schedule of chores to avoid boredom from routine.
  • Encourage your child to take part in after-school activities such as soccer, track, baseball, or softball.
  • Limit the amount of time your family watches television and plays video or computer games.

Create a Healthy Eating Environment

  • Drink water instead of sugary beverages.
  • Start the same healthy diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and grains, for your entire family.
  • Eat meals together at the dinner table at regular times.
  • Eat fresh foods.
  • Try grilling or baking your favorite meat.
  • Practice portion control. Remember fewer calories means less pounds.

The secret to overcoming childhood obesity will come from continued community education. If parents and guardians take an active role in their children’s livelihood, lives can and will be changed.