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.
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.
The best person to determine whether or not a child is overweight is the child's health care provider. If you think that your child is overweight, arrange an appointment with the child's health care team. Your child will have his/her weight and height measured to determine if his or her weight is within a healthy range.
For overweight or obese children, it is very important to be supported in their journey towards health. Children's feelings about themselves often are based on their parents' feelings about them; if you accept your children at any weight, they will be more likely to feel good about themselves.
It is also important to talk to your children about their weight in a nonjudgmental way, allowing them to share their concerns with you. You can help you child by gradually changing your family's physical activity and eating habits so that the entire family can benefit from new healthy behaviors.
There are many ways to involve the entire family, but increasing physical activity is especially important. Some ways to accomplish this include the following:
Make the most of the opportunities that you and your family have to be healthier and more active.
The eating habits your children pick up when they are young will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are adults. If you are unsure about how to select and prepare a variety of foods for your family, ask your healthcare provider or registered dietitian for nutrition counseling.
Do not place your child on a restrictive diet. Children should never be placed on a restrictive diet to lose weight, unless a doctor supervises one for medical reasons.
One way to begin teaching healthy eating habit is to serve a variety of fruits and vegetables to your family. Provide a “rainbow” of fruits and vegetables with meals and as snacks. Avoid sugary drinks like soda pop, fruit-flavored drinks, sweet tea, lemonade and sugary sports drinks. The average child takes in more than 120 calories per day from sugary drinks alone.
Other approaches you can take in helping your overweight child include the following:
If your efforts at home don’t help your child reach a healthy weight, and your child’s healthcare provider determines that your child's health is at risk unless he or she loses weight steadily, you may want to consider a formal treatment program.
Look for the following characteristics when choosing a weight-control program for your child. The program should:
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 04/21/2018