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Spotlight on Childhood Obesity: Your Questions Answered

In the U.S., obesity is the most common chronic disease of childhood, affecting 30% of children.1 “Baby fat” is adorable, but when a child two years old or older is overweight, there’s cause for concern. Excess body fat can be associated with significant health issues that follow the child into adulthood. But the good news is that taking measures to address lifestyle issues can set them up for a lifetime of healthy habits.  So why not get started? The earlier, the better!


Here, we’ll answer some common questions about childhood obesity to help you understand the epidemic and take action to help your children put their best foot forward into a healthy future.

Q: How is childhood obesity measured?

A: Body Mass Index, or BMI, is the tool most widely used by health professionals to measure obesity; for children and young adults ages 2-20, BMI percentile is preferred because it takes into account the fact that children are still growing and may be growing at different rates, depending on their age and sex. According to the CDC, children at or above the 95th percentile have obesity and children with a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and less than the 95th percentile are considered overweight.2

Q: Why is childhood obesity such a problem today?

A: There are many factors contributing to the rise in obesity for people of all ages. These include: 

  • The popularity of “eating out,” which results in the tendency to consume larger quantities of more calorie-dense and high-fat foods. An estimated 40 to 50% of every dollar spent on food is spent outside of the home.1
  • Rising portion sizes for packaged foods and fast food restaurants as well as excessive intake of high caloric beverages such as soda, juice, fruit drinks and sports drinks. In 1950, the average serving size of a soda was 6½ ounces; today, 32 ounce servings are marketed. 1
  • Increased sedentary lifestyle, with significant amount of time sitting in school and in front of the TV or computer. Only 8% of elementary schools, and less than 7% of middle schools and high schools, have daily physical education requirements.The average child spends 2 hours per day watching TV, while 26% watch at least four hours of television per day.1

Q: What are some of the health concerns associated with childhood obesity?

A: Children with obesity are at increased risk for having other chronic conditions and diseases. These include asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes and risk factors for heart disease.2  In addition, the risk that an obese five year-old child remains obese as an adult is approximately 50%, rising to more than 80% for an obese adolescent. The risk of a normal weight child becoming obese as an adult is only 7%.1

Q: How can childhood obesity impact a child’s social and emotional wellbeing?

A: Children with obesity are more likely to be bullied or teased than normal-weight children and are more likely to suffer from depression, experience social isolation and have lower self-esteem. These issues are often carried with them into adulthood. 2

Q: What can we do to treat childhood obesity?

A: Children and their parents should consult with their doctor for a treatment plan. They may also meet with a Registered Dietician for nutritional advice. Generally, it’s recommended that the child be introduced to lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating and physical activity, in order to arrive at a healthier weight and develop healthier habits.1

Q: What are some healthy lifestyle tips to help my family?

A: There are plenty of things parents and family members can do to help their children manage their weight and keep them healthy as they grow. Consider adopting these recommendations from Mayo Clinic3:

  • Cut back on convenience foods and replace with fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Limit consumption of sweetened beverages and fast food.
  • Sit down together and enjoy family meals as a time to connect.
  • Serve child-sized portions and allow the child to eat until full, even if that means leaving food on the plate.
  • Limit recreational TV and computer time and choose high-quality programming.
  • Get kids moving for at least an hour a day, focusing on activities they enjoy.

Q: I’m concerned about our weight-obsessed culture. How can I keep the focus on health?

A: People of all agents are inundated with conflicting messages about what defines a healthy body and healthy body size. It’s important to emphasize the “take care of your body” and “wellbeing” messages. That means removing shame and judgment from your family’s health habits and working together to make positive changes, like enjoying outdoor activities and preparing fresh, healthy meals.   

For more insights into children’s health issues, read Diet and Productivity, Part 1: School Days and Perfect Your Kiddo’s Pearly Whites.



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