Overweight and Obesity
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Overweight and Obesity

Overweight and Obesity Childhood Obesity

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Childhood obesity is an increasingly serious problem in the United States. Nearly 1 in 5 children have obesity. Children with obesity are more likely to develop other serious health problems, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. They are also more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

Obesity affects children from different backgrounds differently. About 1 in 4 Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black children have obesity. This is a challenge for parents, because addressing their child’s weight often means making lifestyle changes for the whole family.

Prevention

All children should visit a healthcare provider every year for wellness check-ups that include monitoring of weight and calculation of body mass index (BMI) percentiles. Some of the best ways to prevent childhood obesity are to:

  • Choose and prepare healthy foods that are lower in fat and have less calories. Use this guide (PDF, 136 KB) to help your family make smart food choices.
  • Get regular physical activity. Your children should get at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Learn more about helping them get active every day.
  • Reduce screen time. Try to limit screen time at home to 2 hours or less each day.
  • Get enough good-quality sleep. NHLBI research has shown a relationship between lack of sleep and obesity that begins as early as infancy. See the recommended hours for children at every age.

The We Can! program offers a free, printable guide for parents, called Eat! Play! Grow! (PDF, 31.3 MB), on how to accomplish these goals.

Risk Factors

Researchers agree that children inherit genes, the blueprints for our bodies, that make them more likely to have obesity. However, that genetic risk does not account for the increase in childhood obesity seen in recent years. A child’s community also has an impact on their weight, as the community can affect a family’s ability to make healthy choices. For example, fresh fruits and vegetables may be difficult to get, roads without sidewalks may make it unsafe to walk for exercise, or healthy meal choices in schools may be unavailable.

Most parents, however, do have some control over other risk factors that increase a child’s risk of having obesity. These include:

  • Eating a high-calorie, low-nutrient diet
  • Not getting enough good-quality sleep
  • Too much screen time
  • Too little physical activity
  • Personal or family stress or trauma

BMI for children

BMI is used to determine whether your child’s weight fits the criteria for overweight or obesity. It is compared with growth charts for children who are the same age and sex as your child.

To learn your child’s percentile, use the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s BMI percentile calculator for children and teens.

  • Underweight is a BMI below the 5th percentile.
  • Healthy weight is a BMI between the 5th to the 85th percentile.
  • Overweight is a BMI between the 85th percentile and the 95th percentile.
  • Obesity is a BMI in the 95th percentile or above.

Treatment

Your child’s provider will monitor your child’s BMI and overall health during regular visits. They may talk to you about healthy lifestyle changes you can make as a family. If your child’s weight does not respond to those, your child’s provider may recommend medicine.

The good news for parents is that childhood obesity is reversible. Even small decreases in weight can have a positive impact on current health and future risk of health problems. The key is to learn the basics of maintaining a healthy weight, seek out resources in your community, and get both medical and mental health care for your child as needed.

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