obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased
from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008. The prevalence of obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years increased
from 5.0% to 18.1%.
Obesity is the result of caloric imbalance
(too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed) and is mediated by genetic, behavioral, and environmental
factors. Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term health impacts:
- Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high
blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for
- Children and adolescents who are obese are
at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization
and poor self-esteem.
- Obese youth are more likely than youth of normal
weight to become overweight or obese adults, and therefore more at risk for associated adult health problems, including
heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.
Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the
risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.
In the past 30 years, the occurrence of overweight in children has doubled and it is now estimated that one in five children
in the US is overweight. Increases in the prevalence of overweight are also being seen in younger children, including preschoolers.
Prevalence of overweight is especially higher among certain populations such as Hispanic, African American and Native Americans
where some studies indicate prevalence of >85th percentile of 35-40%. Also, while more children are becoming overweight,
the heaviest children are getting even heavier. As a result, childhood overweight is regarded as the most common prevalent
nutritional disorder of US children and adolescents, and one of the most common problems seen by pediatricians.
Consequences of Childhood Overweight
Both the short
term and long term effects of overweight on health are of concern because of the negative psychological and health consequences
Potential Negative Psychological Outcomes:
- Depressive symptoms
- Poor Body Image
- Low Self-Concept
- Risk for Eating Disorders
Negative Health Consequences:
- Insulin Resistance
- Type 2 Diabetes
- High Total and LDL Cholesterol and triglyceride
levels in the blood
- Low HDL Cholesterol levels in the blood
- Sleep Apnea
- Early puberty
- Orthopedic problems such as Blount's disease and slipped capital femoral epiphysis
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (fatty infiltration and inflammation of the liver)
Further, obese children are more likely to be obese as adults, hence they are at
increased risk for a number of diseases including: stroke, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and some cancers.
Contributors to Childhood Overweight
- Food Choices - diets higher in calories (including fats and simple sugars) and lower in fruits
and vegetables are linked with overweight
- Physical Activity vs. Sedentary
Activity - less physical activity and more time spent participating in activities such as watching tv results in less energy
- Parental Obesity - children of obese parents are more likely
to be overweight themselves. There is an inherited component to childhood overweight that makes it easier for some children
to become overweight than others. There are a number of single gene mutations ("genetic alterations") that are
capable of causing severe childhood overweight, though these are rare. Even children with genetic risk for overweight will
still only become overweight if they consume more calories than they use. Parental obesity may also reflect a family environment
that promotes excess eating and insufficient activity.
- Eating Patterns
- skipping meals or failure to maintain a regular eating schedule can result in increased intakes when food is eaten.
- Parenting Style - some researchers believe that excess parental control over children's eating
might lead to poor self regulation of kid's energy intake.
during pregnancy - overweight and type 2 diabetes occur with greater frequency in the offspring of diabetic mothers (who
are also more likely to be obese)
- Low Birth Weight - Low birth weight
(<2500 g) is a risk factor for overweight in several epidemiological studies.
- Excessive weight gain during pregnancy - Several studies have shown that excessive maternal weight gain during pregancy
is associated with increased birth weight and overweight later in life.
Feeding - Breast feeding is generally recommended over formula feeding. Although the exact mechanism in unknown, several
long-term studies suggest that breast feeding may prevent excess weight gain as children grow.
- Parental Eating and Physical Activity Habits - Parents with poor nutritional habits and who lead sedentary lifestyles
role model these behaviors for their children, thereby creating an "obesigenic" home environment.
- Demographic Factors. Certain demographic factors are associated with an increased risk of
being overweight in childhood. For example, there is evidence that African-American and Hispanic children 6 to 11 years
years old are more likely to be overweight than are non-Hispanic white children of the same age. Asian and Pacific Islander
children of the same age were slightly less likely to be overweight.
Childhood overweight is identified through the measurement of Body Mass Index or BMI.
BMI can also be calculated using kilograms (kg) and meters (m), as well as pounds (lbs) and inches (in):
Once BMI is calculated, it can then be used to determine if a child is
overweight or not, by comparing the BMI with the CDC growth charts (http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/) for children of the
same age and sex. Children who have a BMI at or above the 95%, percentile for age and sex are considered overweight.
Children with a BMI that falls between the 85%-95% are classified as at risk for overweight. To plot body mass index-for-age
percentiles for boys, click here. To plot body mass index-for-age percentiles for girls, click here.
Parents whose children fall in the "at risk for overweight"
category should discuss this with their pediatrician or family physician and should carefully monitor their child's growth.
Parents whose children fall in the "overweight" category should make an appointment with their pediatrician or
family physician to discuss whether treatment is warranted. Screening for other health risk factors (such as blood pressure
or lipid profile) may be recommended by your physician. The BMI is just an initial tool in a series of examinations required
to determine if your child is overweight. At no time should a child be diagnosed and labeled overweight by a parent, teacher,
or other lay (non-medical) individual. Discussions concerning the child's weight should occur only after reviewing his or
her condition with a medical professional.
for Parents & Caregivers to Help Establish Healthy Eating Patterns with Kids
- Parents should choose what children can eat, (what foods and drinks are in the home, what foods and drinks are served
at meals and snacks, what restaurants they go to, etc) but among those foods, parents should allow kids to choose whether
they eat at all and how much to eat.
- Fruits and vegetables, as compared
to high calorie snack foods (often high fat and high sugar), should be readily available in the home.
- Serve and eat a variety of foods from each food group.
- Use small portions - child portions are usually very small, particularly compared to adult portions. More food
can always be added.
- Bake, broil, roast or grill meats instead of frying
- Limit use of high calorie, high fat and high sugar sauces and spreads.
- Use low-fat or nonfat and lower calorie dairy products for milk, yogurt
and ice cream.
- Support participation in play, sports and other physical
activity at school, church or community leagues.
- Be active as a family
- Go on a walk, bike ride, swim or hike together. Limit TV time.
eating while watching TV. TV viewers may eat too much, too fast, and are influenced by the foods and drinks that are advertised.
- Replace high-sugared drinks, espically sodas, with water and/or low fat
- Limit fruit juice intake to two servings or less per day (one
serving = ¾ cup) - Many parents allow their children unlimited intake of fruit juice (100%) because of the accompanying
vitamins and minerals. However, children who drink too much fruit juice may be consuming excess calories.
- Encourage free play in young children and provide environments that allow children to play
indoors and outdoors.
- Role model through actions healthy dietary practices,
nutritional snacks, and lifestyle activities. Avoid badgering children, restrictive feeding, labeling foods as "good"
or "bad," and using food as a reward.
Tips for Pediatricians & Other Health Care Professionals to Facilitate the Prevention of Childhood Overweight
(from the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement, August 2003).
- Identify and track patients at risk
by virtue of family history, birth weight, or socioeconomic, ethnic, cultural, or environmental factors.
- Calculate and plot BMI once a year in all children and adolescents.
- Use change in BMI to identify rate of excessive weight gain relative to linear growth.
- Encourage, support, and protect breastfeeding.
- Encourage parents and caregivers to promote healthy eating patterns by offering nutritious snacks, such as vegetables
and fruits, low-fat dairy foods, and whole grains; encouraging children's autonomy in self-regulation of food intake and
setting appropriate limits on choices; and modeling healthy food choices.
promote physical activity, including unstructured play at home, in school, in child care settings, and throughout the community.
- Recommend limitation of television and video time to a maximum of 2
hours per day.
- Recognize and monitor changes in obesity-associated risk
factors for adult chronic disease, such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, hyperinsulinemia, impaired glucose tolerance, and
symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.
- Help parents, teachers, coaches, and others who influence youth to discuss health
habits, not body habitus, as part of their efforts to control overweight.
policy makers from local, state, and national organizations and schools to support a healthful lifestyle for all children,
including proper diet and adequate opportunity for regular physical activity.
- Encourage organizations that are responsible for health care and health care financing to provide coverage for effective
obesity prevention and treatment strategies.
- Encourage public and private
sources to direct funding toward research into effective strategies to prevent overweight and to maximize limited family
and community resources to achieve healthful outcomes for youth.
and advocate for social marketing intended to promote healthful food choices and increased physical activity.
Academy of Pediatrics. Prevention of Pediatric Overweight and Obesity: American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement;
Organizational Principles to Guide and Define the Child Health System and/or Improve the Health of All Children; Committee
on Nutrition. Pediatrics. 2003;112:424-430
Banis HT, Varni JW, Wallander
JL, Korsch BM, Jay SM, Adler R, Garcia-Temple E, & Negrete V. Psychological and social adjustment of obese children
and their families. Child: Care, Health, and Development. 1998;14,157-173.
M. Birthweight and body fat distribution in adolescent girls. Arch Dis Child 1997; 77(5): 381-383.
Barlow SE, & Dietz WH. Obesity evaluation and treatment: Expert Committee recommendations. Pediatrics, 1998;
C and Perusse L. Heredity and body fat. Annual Review of Nutrition, 1988;8:259-77.
Dietz WH. Childhood Weight affects adult morbidity and morality. J Nutr, 1998;128 (2):411S-414S.
Ebbeling CB, Pawlak DB, Ludwig DS. Childhood obesity: public health crisis, common sense cure.
Lancet 2002, 360:473-82.
Gortmaker SL, Must A, Sobol AM, Peterson K, Colditz
GA, Dietz WH. Television viewing as a cause of increasing obesity among children in the United States, 1986-1990. Arch Pediatr
Adolesc Med. 1996;150(4):356-62.
Satter E. How to Get Your Kid to Eat...But
Not Too Much. Bull Publishing Company, 1987.
Haas JS. Lee LB. Kaplan CP.
Sonneborn D. Phillips KA. Liang SY. The association of race, socioeconomic status, and health insurance status with the
prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents. American Journal of Public Health. 93(12):2105-10, 2003
Johnson SL, Birch LL. Parents' and children's adiposity and eating style. Pediatrics,
Kinnunen TI, Luoto R, Gissler M, Hemminki E. Pregancy
weight gain from 1960s to 2000 n Finland. Int J Obes 2003; 27:1572-77.
RJ, Ogden CL, Grummer-Strawn LM, et al. CDC growth charts: United States. Advance data from vital and health statistics;
no 314. Hyattsville, Maryland: National Center for Health Statistics. 2000.
RM, Katmarzyk PT, Beunen G. Birth weight and its relationship to size attained and relative fat distribution at 7 to 12
years of age. Obesity Research 1996; 4(4): 385-390.
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GB, Crawford PB, Goldman SR, Barrier PM, Frederick MM, & Lakatos E. Energy intake and physical activity in relation
to indexes of body fat: The NHLBI Growth and Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr, 1994;60:15-22.
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Shapiro C, Sutija VG, Bush J. Effect of maternal
weight gain on infant birth weight. J Perinat Med 2000; 28:428-31.
RP and Flegal KM. Overweight children and adolescents: Descroption, epidemiology, and demographics. Pediatrics, 1998;101(3):497-504.
Childhood Overweight by L. Bellows and J.
- Overweight children have an increased risk of being overweight as adults.
- Genetics, behavior, and family environment play a role in childhood overweight.
- Childhood overweight increases the risk for certain medical and psychological conditions.
- Encourage overweight children to be active, decrease screen time, and develop healthful eating
The prevalence of overweight children in the United
States has increased dramatically in recent years. Recent reports have reached epidemic levels, with approximately 16
percent of children, 2 to 19 years old, classified as overweight.2 Colorado fares slightly better with close
to 14 percent of children considered overweight; however, the same increasing trend seen nationally is occurring in Colorado
as well.3 Excess weight has both immediate and long-term consequences and the current issue demands serious attention.
Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of weight adjusted for height used to determine weight categories. Due to children’s
changing body compositions over time and the different growth rates of boys and girls, BMI for children is age and gender
specific. BMI for age is determined using gender-specific growth charts that place a child in a percentile relative to weight
and height. Weight categories are determined based on these percentiles and are defined as:
Underweight < 5th percentile The terms obese and overweight are often used interchangeably, although the terms at risk of overweight and
overweight are preferred to reference children whose excess body weight poses medical risks.
Normal 5th to < 85th percentile
At risk of overweight 85th to <95th percentile
Overweight 95th percentile and above
Consequences of Childhood Overweight
and adolescents are at increased risk for several health complications. During their youth, for example, they are more likely
to exhibit risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, dyslipidemia, and
type 2 diabetes compared with normal weight individuals.4 Additional health complications associated with overweight
children include sleep apnea, asthma, and liver damage.444 This study also concluded that
if overweight begins before 8 years of age, obesity in adulthood is likely to be more severe. Finally, childhood overweight
has psychological and emotional consequences. Overweight children are at an increased risk of teasing and bullying, low
self-esteem, and poor body image. Further, overweight children and adolescents are more likely to
become obese adults. For example, one study found that approximately 80 percent of children who were overweight at 10 to
15 years old were obese at 25. Another study found that 25 percent of obese adults were overweight as children.
Contributors of Childhood Overweight
There is not one single cause of childhood overweight, rather it is a complex interaction of many variables. Contributing
factors include genetics, behavior, environment, and certain socio-demographics.
Genetics. Certain genetic characteristics may increase an individual’s susceptibility
to excess body weight, however, there are likely to be many genes involved and a strong interaction between genetics and
environment that influences the degree of excess body weight.5 It has been shown that overweight tends to run
in families suggesting a genetic link. In some cases, parental obesity is a stronger predictor of childhood overweight than
the child’s weight status alone.5
Weight gain occurs as a result of energy imbalance, specifically when a child consumes more calories than the child uses.
Several behaviors can contribute to weight gain including nutrition, physical activity, and sedentary behaviors.
- Nutrition - An increase in availability and consumption of high-calorie
convenience foods and beverages, more meals eaten away from home, fewer family meals, and greater portion sizes all may
contribute to childhood overweight. Further, many children’s diets do not meet nutrition guidelines. For example, only
8 percent of children in Colorado ate vegetables three or more times per day as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.3,
- Physical Activity - Decreased opportunities and participation
in physical activity is another behavior that contributes to overweight children. Being physically active not only has positive
effects on body weight, but also on blood pressure and bone strength.7 It also has been shown that physically
active children are more likely to remain physically active into adolescence and adulthood.7 Children may spend
less time being physically active during school as well as at home. School physical education programs have decreased and
children are walking to school and doing household chores less frequently.
Time - While physical activity levels have decreased, sedentary behaviors, such as watching television, playing on
the computer and with video games have increased. One study found that time spent watching television, videos, DVDs, and
movies averaged slightly over three hours per day among children 8 to 18 years old.6 Several studies have found
a positive association between time spent watching television and prevalence of overweight in children. Sedentary behavior,
and specifically television viewing, may replace time children spend in physical activities, contribute to increased calorie
consumption through excessive snacking and eating meals in front of the television, influence children to choose high-calorie,
low-nutrient foods through exposure to food advertisements, and decrease children’s metabolic rate.6
Environment. There are a variety of environmental
factors that can potentially contribute to childhood overweight, including home, childcare settings, school, and the community.
The school and community settings are other environments where children learn about eating and physical activity habits.
It is becoming increasingly important for all children to have access to healthful food choices and safe physical activity
opportunities. Advocating for innovative school nutrition and physical activity programs as well as ensuring that there
are well-lit sidewalks, bike paths, and parks in the community can all help to shift towards a more healthful environment
for our children.
ethnic minority and socioeconomic populations have increased rates of childhood overweight.8 Low-income families
face numerous barriers including food insecurity, lack of safe places for physical activity, and lack of consistent access
to healthful food choices, especially fruits and vegetables.5 Recent reports also indicate racial disparities,
with the greatest prevalence among Mexican American boys and African American non-Hispanic girls.2 With both
sexes combined, roughly 21 percent of both Mexican Americans and African American non-Hispanics are overweight compared
to close to 15 percent for white non-Hispanic.2
Healthy Habits and a Healthy Weight
Lifestyles and behaviors
are established early in life; therefore, a focus on healthful behaviors is vital to promoting healthy weight. The primary
goals of overcoming childhood overweight should be healthful eating and increased activity. It is important for children
to consume enough calories to support normal growth and development without promoting excessive weight gain. The home, childcare
setting, school, and community are all integral to a more healthful environment for our children.
Parents, caregivers, teachers, and community members can promote healthy nutrition and physical
activity habits and a healthy weight among children by:
Healthy Eating Habits
- Serve a wide variety of foods, including
fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Provide children with a variety of foods to ensure they get
all the nutrients they need for proper growth and development.
- Know how
much food kids need. Keep portion sizes in check to help children maintain their sense of self-regulation –and to know
when they are hungry and when they are full.
- Be a good role model for
kids by eating together. Eating meals as a family has been shown to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and decrease
the amount of junk foods and sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Visit USDA’s
MyPyramid website (www.mypyramid.gov) for information and tips for eating healthfully.6
Promoting Physical Activity
- Aim for children
to accumulate a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day. Activity bouts can be all at once
or in several bouts spread throughout the day.
- Increase opportunities
for children to engage in physical activity throughout the day. Incorporating daily recess and physical education into the
school day will help ensure that children are getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
- Be a good role model. Engage in activity with children.
- Limit screen and television time to less than two hours per day. Keep televisions and video games out of children’s
bedrooms to help them limit the amount of screen time.
- Visit the National
Institutes of Health’s WeCan™ (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition) website (www.wecan.org) for ideas on increasing physical activity, decreasing screen time, and improving food choices among children.9
2Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., & Flegal, K. M. (2008). High body mass index for age among US children
and adolescents, 2003-2006. JAMA, 299(20), 2401-2405.
3Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Colorado Physical Activity and Nutrition program. (2006).
Overweight, Physical Activity and Nutrition Among Colorado Children and Youth: A Data Resource. Retrieved February
27, 2009 from http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/pp/COPAN/olderadult/childfactsheet04.pdf
4Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009).
Overweight and Obesity. Consequences. Retrieved February 27, 2009 from http://www.cdc.gov/NCCDPHP/DNPA/obesity/childhood/consequences.htm
5American Academy of Pediatrics. (2003). Policy statement.
Prevention of pediatric overweight and obesity. Pediatrics, 112(2), 424-430.
6United States Department of Agriculture. (2009). MyPyramid: Steps to a Healthier You. Retrieved
February 27, 2009 from http://www.mypyramid.gov
7Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009).
Overweight and Obesity. Contributing Factors. Retrieved February 27, 2009 from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/causes.html
8Institute of Medicine. (2004). Childhood Obesity
in the United States: Facts and Figures. Retrieved February 27, 2009 from http://www.iom.edu/Object.File/Master/22/606/FINALfactsandfigures2.pdf
9National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2009). WeCan!
Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition. Retrieved February 27, 2009 from http://www.wecan.org