Childhood Obesity Facts

Overweight obese child walking down sidewalk.jpg

Obesity in America is a serious problem, and not just in adults. Today, nearly twenty percent of American children are overweight or obese. This number has tripled over the past 30 years alone. Child obesity has quickly become one of the most serious health challenges of the 21st century.

What is Childhood Obesity? 

The body mass index (BMI) measurement is used to determine healthy and unhealthy weight in an individual. This number is calculated by dividing a person's weight by the square of their height. For children, this number may change frequently as they are growing. To account for this, the CDC Growth Charts display percentile curves relative to children of the same sex and age range. A child is considered overweight when they are in the 85th to 95th percentile. At the 95th percentile or higher, a child is considered obese. 

What Causes Childhood Obesity?

More often than not, obesity is the result of a flawed lifestyle. Although genetics can be a factor, it is more common for children to be obese or overweight because of environmental and behavioral factors such as lack of physical activity, insufficient sleep, excessive snacking and other factors.

10 Facts About Childhood Obesity

1. Only 2 Percent of Kids in the U.S. Eat Healthy

Based on diet recommendations established by the United States Department of Agriculture, only 2 percent of children have a healthy diet. In fact, in a survey of high school seniors, only three out of every 10 report eating vegetables “nearly” every day. Of the vegetables consumed, one-fourth is in the form of french fries or potato chips.

2. Childhood Obesity Results in Reduced Life Expectancies

Unless a significant change occurs, experts warn that the effects of childhood obesity could reduce average life expectancy by five years or more over the next several decades.

3. Obesity Among Children is Mainly Caused by a Lack of Exercise

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and teens exercise at least at the intensity of a fast walk for 60 minutes every day. But did you know one in every four children does not participate in any free-time physical activity? Unfortunately, more and more children are spending their time doing stationary activities.

4. Screen Time and Childhood Obesity

Children between 8-18 years old now spend a 7.5 hours in front of a screen on average each day, 4.5 of which are spent watching TV, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Studies have found that the more screen time, the more likely children are to gain excess weight. There’s also evidence that early screen habits may have long-lasting effects. Two studies that followed children from birth found that TV viewing in childhood predicts obesity risk well into adulthood and even into their mid-life.

5. Unnecessary Snacking Leads to Weight Gain

Thirty years ago, kids ate just one snack a day, whereas now they are trending toward three snacks, resulting in an additional 200 calories a day. Children and teens in states with strong laws that restrict the sale of unhealthy snack foods and beverages in school gained less weight over a three-year period than those living in states with no such policies.

6. Overweight and Obese Children May Miss More School

Many know that a healthy body makes for a healthy mind. But did you know that overweight children miss four times more school than a child at a normal weight? A number of factors could be to blame including, a fear of being bullied or teased, or being embarrassed about participating in physical activities.

7. The Risk for Heart Disease Jumps for Children with Obesity

70 percent of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Researchers predict that, if current adolescent obesity rates continue, there will be more than 100,000 additional cases of coronary heart disease attributable to obesity by the year 2035.

8. Childhood Obesity and the Link to Asthma

Overweight and obesity are associated with a 52 percent increased risk of a new diagnosis of asthma among children and adolescents.

9. Health Care Costs Skyrocket

Did you know health care expenses directly related to childhood obesity are $14 billion every year? If obesity rates continue on their current pace, by 2030, medical costs associated with treating preventable obesity-related diseases are estimated to increase by $48 billion to $66 billion per year in the United States.

10. The Relationship Between Childhood Obesity and Diabetes

45 percent of children diagnosed with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes due to being obese or overweight.

Find a Doctor

Childhood obesity can often be prevented by modeling positive lifestyle habits in your home such as healthy eating and physical activity. If you're concerned about your child or are looking for medical support, talk to your child's doctor.