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Childhood Obesity

Obesity can pose a serious health risk no matter your age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),1 childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States and puts children and adolescents at risk for poor health.

Father and son eat a healthy breakfast

Childhood obesity in the United States

About 18.5% (13.7 million) of children and adolescents in the United States are obese, according to a 2017 report issued by the CDC National Center for Health Statistics. Childhood obesity occurs when a child is “well above the normal or healthy weight for his or her age and height.” Behavior, genetics, and a child’s community can affect how much or how little a child weighs.

The Florida Department of Public Health, opens new window has information about childhood obesity in each county and makes available links to key information, such as from Healthy Kids, Healthy Future, opens new window and Shape America, opens new window.

If you feel your child is overweight or obese, our Community Management Department can connect you with resources in your community. Call us at 813-392-5303 (TTY: 711), Monday – Friday, from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., Eastern time.

Behavior

Behaviors that influence excess weight gain include:

  • Eating high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and beverages
  • Medication use
  • Not getting enough physical activity
  • Sleep routines
  • Spending too much time watching television or other screen devices

To help children grow and maintain a healthy weight, the CDC recommends:

  • Consuming healthy foods
  • Being physically active

 

Body mass index (BMI)

Body mass index (BMI)3 is a measure used to determine who is overweight and/or obese. To calculate your BMI, divide your weight in kilograms by square of height in meters. For example, a 10-year-old boy who is 56 inches tall and weighs 102 pounds would have a BMI of 22.9 kg/m2. This BMI, for his age and gender, would signal that he is obese.

Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and gender.

Overweight is defined as a BMI, for children and teens of the same age and gender:

  • At or above the 85th percentile and
  • Below the 95th percentile

The measurement of BMI is different for children and teenagers than it is for adults. You can use the CDC BMI calculator, opens new window to get your BMI and BMI-for-age percentile.

Health risks

Children who have obesity are more likely to have:4

  • Breathing problems, such as asthma and sleep apnea
  • Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux (e.g., heartburn)
  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease
  • Increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes
  • Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort
  • Low self-esteem and lower self-reported quality of life
  • Psychological problems such as anxiety and depression
  • Social problems such as bullying and stigma

Future health risks

Children who have obesity are more likely to:

  • Become adults with obesity, which is associated with an increased risk of several serious health conditions (e.g., heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer)
  • Have more severe risk factors in adulthood

Child wellness visits

If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, talk to your child’s doctor. You can use your child’s wellness visit to talk about your concerns. Children between the ages of 3 and 20 should see their doctor at least once each year.

Resources

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, opens new window recommend a child or teenager:

  • Eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, a variety of lean protein foods, and low-fat/fat-free dairy products
  • Limit foods and beverages with added sugars, solid fats, or sodium

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, opens new window recommend children between the ages of:

  • 6 and 17 years do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day
  • 3 and 5 years should be physically active during the day for growth and development
  1. “Overweight & Obesity: Childhood Obesity Facts,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed May 17, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html, opens new window.
  2. Craig M. Hales et al., “Prevalence of Obesity among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015–2016, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics, last accessed May 17, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db288.pdf, PDF opens new window .
  3. “Overweight & Obesity: Defining Childhood Obesity.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed May 17, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/defining.html, opens new window.
  4. “Overweight & Obesity: Childhood Obesity Causes & Consequences,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed May 17, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/causes.html, opens new window.

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