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The rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. has grown at an alarming rate in recent decades. There are a variety of factors that contribute to obesity in children that can have long-lasting effects on a child’s well-being. By understanding facts about childhood obesity, what obesity can cause, and how to prevent it, you can keep your child happy and healthy for years to come.

Childhood Obesity: Quick Facts

  • Since the 1970s, the percentage of children within the obese range has tripled in the U.S.
  • It is estimated that nearly 25% of children between the ages of 6-19 are obese.
  • Globally, there is estimated to be around 41 million children who are obese.
  • People who are obese in childhood are more likely to stay obese as adults.

What Is Considered “Obese” in Children?

Children considered to be obese are well above what is considered the normal or healthy weight for their particular age and height. Excess body fat can be caused by a variety of factors such as genetics, metabolism, environmental influences, sleep patterns, and lifestyle behaviors like diet and physical activity. Referencing the body mass index (BMI) or measuring height and weight can be used to determine a child’s percentage of excess fat.

Children grow at different rates, depending on age and sex, which is taken into account when determining BMI. While BMI does not directly measure body fat, research has shown that it does provide results similar to more direct measures, such as skinfold thickness measurements, bioelectrical impedance, densitometry, and more.

Often, the terms “overweight” and “obese” are used interchangeably, but they do in fact indicate different levels of excess body fat. A child is considered overweight when the BMI has reached the 85th percentile but is less than the 95th percentile. A child is considered obese when his or her BMI has reached the 95th percentile or above.

The Effects of Childhood Obesity

There are many physical effects and disadvantages to childhood obesity, as well as effects in mental well-being. Childhood obesity has been linked to the following complications:

  • Diabetes: types 1 and 2
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Some types of cancer
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Asthma and sleep apnea

With both short-term and long-term effects, obesity should be dealt with before the consequences become irreversible.

Preventing Obesity in Children

Thankfully, obesity is largely preventable. For children, preventing obesity means promoting the proper lifestyle behaviors and physical activity. A child’s consumption rate must match the energy level in which they are burning it off.

Promote a healthy diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, and protein. Limit your child’s intake of sugary foods, as well as foods with saturated fats. Children should also be getting at least 60 minutes of moderate exercise each day, but more will never hurt. Limit your child’s screen time and promote activities that keep them moving.

For more on childhood obesity and helping your child live a long, happy, and healthy life, contact our trusted and knowledgeable medical team today.