ON OVERWEIGHT CHILDREN IN AMERICA
Do you know when to be concerned about your child's
weight? Of course, all children gain weight as they grow
older. But extra pounds - more than what's needed to support
their growth and development — can lead to childhood
Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that
affects children and adolescents. It occurs when a child is
well above the normal weight for his or her age and height.
Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because the
extra pounds often start kids on the path to health problems
that were once confined to adults, such as diabetes, high
blood pressure and high cholesterol.
One of the best strategies to combat excess weight in your
child is to improve the diet and exercise levels of your
entire family. This helps protect the health of your child
now and in the future.
Causes of Childhood Obesity
Although there are some genetic and hormonal causes of
childhood obesity, most excess weight is caused by kids
eating too much and exercising too little. Children, unlike
adults, need extra nutrients and calories to fuel their
growth and development. So if they consume the calories
needed for daily activities, growth and metabolism, they add
pounds in proportion to their growth. But children who eat
more calories than needed gain weight beyond what's required
to support their growing bodies.
Far less common than lifestyle issues are genetic diseases
and hormonal disorders that can predispose a child to
obesity. These diseases, such as Prader-Willi syndrome and
Cushing's syndrome, affect a very small proportion of
children. In the general population, eating and exercise
habits play a much larger role.
Childhood Obesity Risk Factors
Many factors — usually working in combination — increase
your child's risk of becoming overweight:
Diet. Regular consumption of
high-calorie foods, such as fast foods, baked goods and
vending machine snacks, contribute to weight gain.
High-fat foods are dense in calories. Loading up on soft
drinks, candy and desserts also can cause weight gain.
Foods and beverages like these are high in sugar and
Inactivity. Sedentary kids are more
likely to gain weight because they don't burn calories
through physical activity. Inactive leisure activities,
such as watching television or playing video games,
contribute to the problem.
Genetics. If your child comes from a
family of overweight people, he or she may be
genetically predisposed to put on excess weight,
especially in an environment where high-calorie food is
always available and physical activity isn't encouraged.
Psychological factors. Some children
overeat to cope with problems or to deal with emotions,
such as stress or boredom. Their parents may have
Family factors. Most children don't
shop for the family's groceries. Indeed, parents are
responsible for putting healthy foods in the kitchen at
home and leaving unhealthy foods in the store. You can't
blame your kids for being attracted to sweet, salty and
fatty foods; after all they taste good. But you can
control much of their access to these foods, especially
Socioeconomic factors. Children from
low-income backgrounds are at greater risk of becoming
obese. Poverty and obesity often go hand in hand because
low-income parents may lack the time and resources to
make healthy eating and exercise a family priority.
Obesity (BMI ≥ 95th percentile) is a serious health concern
for children and adolescents. Data from NHANES surveys
(1976–1980 and 2003–2006) show that the prevalence of
obesity has increased: for children aged 2–5 years,
prevalence increased from 5.0% to 12.4%; for those aged 6–11
years, prevalence increased from 6.5% to 17.0%; and for
those aged 12–19 years, prevalence increased from 5.0% to
Healthy People 2010 identified overweight and
obesity as 1 of 10 leading health indicators and called for
a reduction in the proportion of children and adolescents
who are overweight or obese, but the United States has made
little progress toward the target goal.
Progress toward reducing the national prevalence of
overweight and obesity is monitored using data from the
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
The most recent NHANES data (2003–2006) showed that for
children aged 6 –11 years and 12–19 years, the prevalence of
overweight (BMI ≥85th percentile) was 33.3% and 34.1%
respectively. These prevalence figures are more than three
times the target prevalence of 5% set in Healthy People
The following graphs show trends in childhood overweight
based on NHANES data for various age groups, beginning with
NHANES I (1971–1974) and ending with NHANES 2003–2006 (the
most recently available published data).
of Obesity* Among U.S. Children and Adolescents
Ages 2 - 5
Ages 6 - 11
Ages 12 - 19
*Sex-and age-specific BMI ≥ 95th
percentile based on the CDC growth charts
Ogden CL, Flegal KM, Carroll MD,
Johnson CL. Prevalence and trends in overweight
among U.S. children and adolescents, 1999–2000.
Hedley AA, Ogden CL, Johnson CL,
Carroll MD, Curtin LR, Flegal KM. Prevalence of
overweight and obesity among US children,
adolescents, and adults, 1999–2002. JAMA
Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Flegal KM.
High Body Mass Index for Age Among US Children
and Adolescents, 2003–2006. JAMA
Obesity* Among U.S. Children and Adolescents
National Health and Nutrition Examination
age-specific BMI > 95th percentile based
on the CDC growth
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