What is the rate of obesity in children and adolescents in the United States?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9% of children age 2 to 5 years, 21% of children age 6 to 11 years, and 17% of children age 12 to 19 years are obese. Overall, 17% of children, or 12.7 million children in the United States, are considered obese.

Obesity in children and adolescents has tripled over the past 30 years. Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults. This increases their risk to develop diseases such as heart disease and diabetes later in life.

What causes children to become overweight?

Children become overweight for many different reasons. The most common causes are lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, genetic factors ("runs in the family"), or a combination of these factors. Only in rare cases is being overweight caused by a medical condition such as a hormone disorder. A physical exam and some blood tests will rule out the possibility of a medical condition.

Although weight problems run in families, not all children with a family history of obesity will be overweight. Children whose parents or brothers or sisters are overweight may be at an increased risk of becoming overweight themselves, but this can be related to shared family behaviors such as eating and activity habits. Genetic factors can increase the likelihood that a child will be overweight.

A child's diet and activity level play an important role in determining a child's weight. Today, many children spend a lot time being inactive. For example, the average child spends approximately 24 hours each week watching television. As computers, video games, tablets and smartphones continue to grow in popularity, the number of hours of inactivity may only increase.

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