AAP Childhood Overweight and Obesity
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About Childhood Obesity

What is obesity?

Obesity is an excess percentage of body weight due to fat that puts people at risk for many health problems. In children older than two years of age, obesity is assessed by a measure called the Body Mass Index (BMI). 

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What is BMI?


Body Mass Index (BMI) is calculated from a child's weight and height. BMI is a reliable indicator of body fat for most children and teens. Your child's pediatrician should assess BMI at each well visit beginning at age two.  For children and adolescents, BMI is age- and sex-specific and is often referred to as BMI-for-age. After BMI is calculated for children and teens, the BMI is plotted on the CDC BMI-for-age growth charts (for girls or boys) to obtain a percentile ranking.

To learn more about BMI View PDF Link opens in a new window

When are children considered overweight or obese?

Children and adolescents with a BMI over the 85% but less than 95th percentile are considered overweight and those with a BMI greater than the 95th percentile are considered obese.

What are the negative health outcomes associated with obesity?

Overweight or obese children and adolescents are at risk for many health problems. Some of the negative health outcomes that may be more obvious to children and their parents are asthma, sleep apnea, skin infections, and complaints of joint pain. All of these are significant health problems and need attention by a doctor; however, in addition to these there are other serious health risks associated with obesity that may be less obvious to the child or parent, such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and Type 2 Diabetes. These conditions can have serious long-term health effects and may require ongoing medical treatment and management. The bottom line is obesity can cause immediate health problems as well as a number of very serious chronic health conditions.

In addition, research indicates that obese children have lower self esteem and self confidence than their thinner peers. Low self esteem and self confidence have been linked to poor academic performance, fewer friends, and depression. For all of these reasons it is important to try and prevent childhood obesity and identify overweight and obese children quickly so they can begin treatment and attain and maintain a healthy weight.

Some examples of the problems associated with obesity are:

Physical Health image

  • Glucose intolerance and insulin resistance
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Hepatic steatosis (fatty liver disease (FLD)
  • Cholelithiasis (gallstones)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Asthma
  • Skin conditions
  • Menstrual abnormalities
  • Impaired balance
  • Orthopedic problems

emotion health art

  • Low self esteem
  • Negative body image
  • Depression

social health art

  • Stigma
  • Teasing and bullying
  • Negative stereotyping
  • Discrimination
  • Social marginalization

Adapted from the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity Obesity Fact Sheet

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What are the current trends?

  • Over the past two decades, the prevalence of children who are obese has doubled, while the number of adolescents who are obese has tripled.
  • According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 31.9% of children and adolescents were overweight (BMI at or above the 85th percentile) and 16.3% were obese (BMI at or above 95th percentile). 1

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Who is the most at risk?

 Although overweight has increased for all children and adolescents over time, NHANES data indicate disparities among racial/ethnic groups.

  • Non-Hispanic black girls and Mexican American girls are more likely to have high BMI for age than non-Hispanic white girls. 1
  • Among boys, Mexican Americans are more likely to have high BMI for age than non-Hispanic white boys. 1 

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1 Ogden C, et al.  "High Body Mass Index for Age Among US Children and Adolescents, 2003 - 2006."  Journal of the American Medical Association 2008, vol. 299, pp. 2401 - 2405.

What can you do?

To learn more about what you can to help your family live an active healthy life and support healthy active communities visit:  What Families Can Do, What Health Professionals Can Do and Partner with your Community

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