Obesity in America has reached epidemic proportions, with one of every three children considered overweight or obese. Though there are physiological reasons for some of these cases (endocrine issues, hereditary syndromes, for example), the vast majority are caused by lifestyle choices.

The preponderance of convenience foods and a lack of physical activity—usually due to the overuse of electronic entertainment devices—has caused many children to now exhibit many diseases that previously were thought of as adult conditions. These include bone and joint disease, shortness of breath, sleep issues and apnea, liver and gall bladder diseases, and cardiovascular risks such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Obesity also causes a tendency to mature earlier, with overweight children taller and more sexually mature than their friends, and causing irregular menstrual cycles and fertility problems in girls as they enter adulthood.

Other complications of overweight and obesity are emotional, characterized by low self-esteem, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, depression, and a risk of substance abuse.

What Is Body Mass Index (BMI)?

The proportion of weight gain in children can be interpreted by calculating their body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated using a child’s height and weight. The calculated BMI is then compared to national references of children of the same age and gender to determine a child’s BMI percentiles. This is different than the process used for adults because a child’s body composition and growth patterns vary by age and gender.

The following definitions apply for children and teenagers ages 2–19:

  • Overweight: A BMI at or above the 85th percentile and lower than the 95th percentile for children of the same age and gender.
  • Obesity: A BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and gender.

Determine your child's BMI and learn more with these tools and resources:

What Are the Health Risks of Obesity?

There is a number of health risks associated with being overweight or obese, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Lipid abnormalities
  • Impaired glucose regulation leading to type 2 diabetes
  • Breathing problems like sleep apnea and asthma
  • Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort
  • Fatty liver disease and heartburn
  • Social and psychological problems
  • Obesity continuing into adulthood

How Is Obesity Treated?

Children who are obese or overweight are cared for by our specialists in the Department of Clinical Nutrition and the Wellness and Weight Management Program. The program provides compassionate and comprehensive outpatient care for families of children and teenagers who are overweight or obese and want to make healthy lifestyle changes. 

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