Obesity in Children and Adolescents

Obesity in Children Health Summary
Obesity means an excess amount of body fat. No general agreement exists on the definition of obesity in children as it does adults. Some define pediatric obesity as body weight at least 20% higher than the healthy weight range for a child or adolescent of that height, or as a body fat percentage above 25% in boys or above 32% in girls.
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Childhood Obesity Facts

Obesity means an excess amount of body fat. No general agreement exists on the lowest definition of obesity in children and adolescents, unlike standards for adults. Nevertheless, most professionals accept published guidelines based on the body mass index (BMI) -- modified for age, pubertal stage, and gender -- to measure obesity in children and adolescents. Others define pediatric obesity as body weight at least 20% higher than the healthy weight range for a child or adolescent of that height, or as a body fat percentage above 25% in boys or above 32% in girls.

Although rare in the past, obesity is now among the most widespread medical problems affecting children and adolescents living in the United States and other developed countries. About 15% of adolescents (12-19 years of age) and children (6-11 years of age) are obese in the United States according to the American Obesity Association. These numbers have continued to increase since at least the early 1990s. Pediatric obesity represents one of our greatest health challenges.

Obesity has a profound effect on a patient's life. Obesity increases the patient's risk of numerous health problems, and it also can create emotional and social problems. Obese children are also more likely to be obese as adults, thereby increasing their lifelong risk of serious health problems such as heart disease and stroke.

If your child or teenager is overweight, further weight gain can be prevented. Parents can help their children keep their weight in the healthy range.

  • In infancy, breastfeeding and delaying introduction of solid foods may help prevent obesity.
  • In early childhood, children should be given healthy, low-fat snacks and take part in moderate-vigorous physical activity every day. Their television viewing should be limited to no more than seven hours per week (this includes sedentary entertainment like video games and internet surfing).
  • Older children can be taught to select healthy, nutritious foods and to develop good exercise habits. Their time spent watching television and playing with computer or video games should be limited to no more than seven hours each week. Avoid snacking or eating meals while watching TV, movies, and videos. Avoid consumption of sugary products, especially those high in corn syrup or fructose derivatives, such as regular soda, pop, or cola (which some regions call "phosphate" drinks).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/9/2014

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