Overview of childhood obesity

Childhood obesity has been on the rise in the United States for more than a decade, and according to the American Heart Association (AHA), about one in three children and teens is obese or overweight.

SolStock / iStock

As the AHA noted, this figure is nearly three times higher than in 1963. In fact, childhood obesity has become so widespread and threatening to the health of children that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a dedicated full website. to its prevention. and treatment.

But hope is not lost. Parents around the world will be delighted to know that many organizations outside the AHA and AAP, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have joined the fight to end childhood obesity.

Participating in the fight against childhood obesity requires understanding its definitions, causes, treatments, and prevention options.

How obesity is determined in children

For children between the ages of two and 19, obesity is defined by body mass index (BMI). A BMI at the 95th percentile or higher for children of the same age and sex is classified as obese. A BMI at the 85th percentile or higher but below the 95th percentile is considered overweight.

For children under the age of two, there is currently no nationally agreed and recommended definition of obesity.

Health risk

Obesity in children is associated with many serious short-term and long-term health risks. Obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure (hypertension) and high blood cholesterol , which are risk factors for future cardiovascular disease (disease of the heart and blood vessels, including the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain).

One study, for example, found that up to 70 percent of obese children have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Obese children are also at a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes . In fact, the increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children has caused great concern in the medical community, as "childhood diabetes" was previously considered only the rarest type 1 diabetes.

Now, with the rise in childhood obesity, there is a real explosion in the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children. Since diabetes is also a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease, it is another disease with serious long-term consequences.

Also, obese children are more likely to have breathing problems such as asthma and obstructive sleep apnea . These children are also more likely to develop joint problems and fatty liver, which has been associated with cirrhosis and liver cancer over time.

Finally, as many experts have pointed out, obesity or being overweight in childhood often leads to obesity in adulthood.


It is impossible to identify a single cause of the childhood obesity epidemic. There is likely a combination of multiple factors at play here.

Several studies have examined the causes of rising rates of childhood obesity, and the number continues. In many studies, a more sedentary lifestyle has definitely been found to predominate. Studies have shown that children who watch television for more than an hour a day have higher body mass index (BMI) and higher blood pressure. The researchers hypothesized that spending more time in front of the TV is associated with poor food choices, leading to being overweight and obese and, in turn, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The decrease in the number of physical education programs and the time spent in physical activity during the average school day also contributed to the increase in childhood and adolescent obesity. In addition to obesity itself, this decrease in physical activity is a major concern for many reasons; a lower level of physical fitness increases the risk of heart disease.

Inappropriate high-calorie food choices have also been linked to childhood obesity. Many studies have found links between certain dietary behaviors, such as sugary drinks, and obesity. The consumption of sugary drinks has received a lot of attention, and studies have overwhelmingly pointed to a link between its consumption and obesity in both children and adults. Additionally, many doctors note that when overweight and obese children follow their recommendations to reduce or avoid sugary drinks, they will reliably lose weight.

Note that the sugary drinks category includes both sodas and fruit drinks and juices, which often have multiple added sugars. In fact, the consumption of sugary beverages was considered so dangerous to children's health and such a serious cause of obesity that several cities have imposed additional taxes or warning labels on them.

There are also genetic factors that influence the development of childhood obesity, many of which are only now being investigated or discovered. For example, scientists have found that the FTO gene can cause teens to overeat and become obese.

Management of childhood obesity

Diagnosing a child as obese is difficult for any parent. If you are concerned that your child may be overweight or obese, be sure to discuss your concerns with your child's pediatrician and ask for help. They can suggest strategies that can lead to weight loss and are appropriate for your child and their situation.

If your child has been diagnosed with obesity, you can work with him in positive ways to make daily physical activity more fun, especially if he doesn't have access to physical education at school, and to encourage healthy eating. Habits (This includes taking steps to encourage healthier holiday habits traditionally associated with sugar consumption, such as Halloween and Easter, and making eating at home more often a common priority.)

Don't underestimate the power of home cooking at the family table. Not only does this contribute to having a good time with your children, but research shows time and again that there are many health benefits to be gained from eating at home.

For example, in a study presented at the 2015 AHA meeting in Orlando, researchers led by Gen Zong, Ph.D., a researcher at the TH Chan Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, found that people who ate a Average 11 to 14 meals and lunches prepared at home each week had a 13% lower risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes compared to those who ate zero to six homemade lunches and dinners.

Other studies have linked eating out, especially fast food, with overweight and obesity in children and young adults. More than a third of children and teens eat fast food on any given day, according to a report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) .Based on data from the National Health Examination Survey. Health and Nutrition (NHANES).

As the CDC noted, "Fast food consumption is associated with weight gain in adults." The wrong choice of high-calorie foods is also associated with childhood obesity. Also, fast food is known to be high in sodium and saturated fat, which can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease over time.

In contrast, foods cooked at home tend to be of higher dietary quality and less sodium and saturated fat. In an analysis of nearly 10,000 NHANES participants between 2007 and 2010, the researchers concluded that "making dinner more often at home is associated with a healthier diet, regardless of whether the person is trying to lose weight."

Several treatments for obesity are currently available. In addition to lifestyle changes, these include medications for obesity and bariatric surgeries (for weight loss). While lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, are first-line therapy for everyone, it is especially true for children. Children can experience more serious side effects from more invasive medications or treatments. However, it is important to discuss all the options and the best options for your child with your pediatrician.

Get the word of drug information

Always remember that obesity is treatable, and given the number of children in the country and around the world who have been diagnosed as overweight or obese, you are certainly not alone in your fight against it.

While it will take dedication and patience to develop and stick to a plan that will help your child cope with and eventually overcome obesity, in the long run it will pay off in setting a course for a better and healthier future for your child.

Related Articles