children holding up the word obesity

Understanding Childhood Obesity

According to the American Heart Association, one in three American kids and teenagers are overweight. This is most often determined by the Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator, which is used to determine a person's body fat based on weight and height. If a person's index number exceeds 25, then he or she is defined as overweight, whereas a person whose BMI is more than 30 is considered obese. Childhood obesity can occur from genetics, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to better understand childhood obesity.

Health Impact of Obesity

An obese child can develop Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and breathing issues. They can also have trouble sleeping. Psychologically, children can become depressed about their weight, especially if they are bullied at school.


If you believe that your child is overweight or obese, a trip to your child's pediatrician should be scheduled. Taking your child to the pediatrician will allow the doctor to measure his or her weight and height, record the family's medical history, and investigate any other factors that can affect the child's weight. The pediatrician may order some tests as well before making a final diagnosis to make sure that your child is healthy. If the doctor determines that your child is overweight or obese, he or she will help you and your child to work toward healthier weight.


Treating obesity differs from child to child. If your child has a medical condition that is the cause of the excess weight, medications may be prescribed. However, the majority of obese children need to change their diets and exercise more frequently. Because children are still growing, the goal for many is to help them maintain their weight; this, in turn, lowers their BMI over time.

If weight loss is discussed, you must take responsibility for helping your child change his or her eating habits. One way this can be done is by substituting fruits and vegetables for chips, chocolate, and other unhealthy snacks. Sodas and sweet drinks should also be limited. When meal time rolls around, opt for home-cooked meals, because you know what you are putting in your food. This healthier option also allows you to control portion sizes.

Adding physical activity, even if it simply means taking a daily walk around the block with your child, will make a huge difference in weight and overall health. Exercise doesn't have to be boring; any type of physical activity is good, as long as your child is moving around.

There are some programs available for children who are struggling with obesity. Usually, these programs require that your child falls in least at the 85th percentile on the BMI index. Most programs are several weeks long and focus on making healthier diet choices, implementing regular physical activity, and counseling to support behavior changes. Programs will typically require recommendation from a physician and will be led by registered dieticians and exercise specialists who will work with both you and your child to make lifestyle changes. 


Preventing obesity means teaching your child good eating habits and the value of physical activity early in their life. You can enroll your child in dance classes or a sport at an early age so that they are active. Sweet snacks and sodas should be limited. Fruits, vegetables, and a well-balanced diet are important for children not only to prevent obesity but to also help the child build a strong immune system.

Last Updated: July 26, 2016