The percentage of overweight children in the United States is growing at an alarming rate, with 1 out of 3 kids now considered overweight or obese.
Many kids are spending less time exercising and more time in front of the TV, computer, or video-game console. And today's busy families have fewer free moments to prepare nutritious, home-cooked meals. From fast food to electronics, quick and easy is the reality for many people.
Preventing kids from becoming overweight means adapting the way your family eats and exercises, and how you spend time together. Helping kids lead healthy lifestyles begins with parents who lead by example.
Once your child's BMI is known, it can be plotted on a standard BMI chart. Kids ages 2 to 19 fall into one of four categories:
BMI calculations aren't used to estimate body fat in babies and young toddlers. For kids younger than 2, doctors use weight-for-length charts to determine how a baby’s weight compares with his or her length. Any child who falls at or above the 85th percentile may be considered overweight.
BMI is not a perfect measure of body fat and can be misleading in some situations. For example, a muscular person may have a high BMI without being overweight (extra muscle adds to body weight — but not fatness). Also, BMI might be difficult to interpret during puberty when kids are experiencing periods of rapid growth. It's important to remember that BMI is usually a good indicator — but is not a direct measurement — of body fat.
If you're worried that your child or teen may be overweight, make an appointment with your doctor, who can assess eating and activity habits and make suggestions on how to make positive changes. The doctor also may decide to screen for some of the medical conditions that can be associated with obesity.
Depending on your child's BMI (or weight-for-length measurement), age, and health, the doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian for additional advice and, possibly, might recommend a comprehensive weight management program.
Obesity increases the risk for serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol — all once considered exclusively adult diseases. Obese kids also may be prone to low self-esteem that stems from being teased, bullied, or rejected by peers.
Kids who are unhappy with their weight may be more likely than average-weight kids to:
Overweight and obese kids are at risk for developing medical problems that affect their present and future health and quality of life, including:
Cardiovascular risk factors present in childhood (including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes) can lead to serious medical problems like heart disease, heart failure, and stroke as adults. Preventing or treating overweight and obesity in kids may reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease as they get older.
A number of factors contribute to becoming overweight. Genetics, lifestyle habits, or a combination of both may be involved. In some instances, endocrine problems, genetic syndromes, and medications can be associated with excessive weight gain.
Much of what we eat is quick and easy — from fat-laden fast food to microwave and prepackaged meals. Daily schedules are so jam-packed that there's little time to prepare healthier meals or to squeeze in some exercise. Portion sizes, in the home and out, have grown greatly.
Plus, now more than ever life is sedentary — kids spend more time playing with electronic devices, from computers to handheld video game systems, than actively playing outside. Television is a major culprit.
Kids younger than 6 spend an average of 2 hours a day in front of a screen, mostly watching TV, DVDs, or videos. Older kids and teens average 4.5 hours a day watching TV, DVDs, or videos. When computer use and video games are included, time spent in front of a screen increases to over 7 hours a day! Kids who watch more than 4 hours a day are more likely to be overweight compared with kids who watch 2 hours or less.
Not surprisingly, TV in the bedroom is also linked to increased likelihood of being overweight. In other words, for many kids, once they get home from school, virtually all of their free time is spent in front of one screen or another.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids over 2 years old not spend more than 1-2 hours a day in front of a screen. The AAP also discourages any screen time for children younger than 2 years old.
Many kids don't get enough physical activity. Although physical education (PE) in schools can help kids get up and moving, more and more schools are eliminating PE programs or cutting down the time spent on fitness-building activities. One study showed that gym classes offered third-graders just 25 minutes of vigorous activity each week.
Current guidelines recommend that kids over 2 years old get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. Babies and toddlers should be active for 15 minutes every hour (a total of 3 hours for every 12 waking hours) each day.
Genetics also play a role — genes help determine body type and how your body stores and burns fat just like they help determine other traits. Genes alone, however, cannot explain the current obesity crisis. Because both genes and habits can be passed down from one generation to the next, multiple members of a family may struggle with weight.
People in the same family tend to have similar eating patterns, maintain the same levels of physical activity, and adopt the same attitudes toward being overweight. Studies have shown that a child's risk of obesity greatly increases if one or more parent is overweight or obese.
The key to keeping kids of all ages at a healthy weight is taking a whole-family approach. It's the "practice what you preach" mentality. Make healthy eating and exercise a family affair. Get your kids involved by letting them help you plan and prepare healthy meals, and take them along when you go grocery shopping so they can learn how to make good food choices.
And avoid falling into these common food/eating behavior traps:
Additional recommendations for kids of all ages:
If you eat well, exercise regularly, and incorporate healthy habits into your family's daily life, you're modeling a healthy lifestyle for your kids that will last. Talk to them about the importance of eating well and being active, but make it a family affair that will become second nature for everyone.
Most of all, let your kids know you love them — no matter what their weight — and that you want to help them be happy and healthy.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2012
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.|
|Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Offering nutrition information, resources, and access to registered dietitians.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|ChooseMyPlate.gov ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information on how to follow the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It includes resources and tools to help families lead healthier lives.|
|American Council on Exercise (ACE) ACE promotes active, healthy lifestyles by setting certification and education standards for fitness instructors and through ongoing public education about the importance of exercise.|
|About Overweight and Obesity We use the words "oveweight" and "obese" a lot, but they actually have medical meanings. Find out how doctors diagnose these conditions and what they mean for a person's health.|
|Body Mass Index (BMI) One of the biggest questions guys and girls have as they grow and develop is whether they're the right weight. One place to start is by learning about body mass index, or BMI.|
|Staying at a Healthy Weight Here are some practical, everyday tips on making exercise and healthy eating work for you instead of feeling like it's the other way around.|
|Growth Charts Doctors use growth charts to figure out whether kids' height and weight measurements are "normal" and whether they're developing on track. Here are some facts about growth charts.|
|5 Ways to Reach a Healthy Weight Most dieters regain the weight they lost by dieting when they go back to their old eating habits. Get our tips on the best ways to drop excess weight.|
|How Much Food Should I Eat? Lots of us don't realize we're eating too much because we've become so used to large portions. This article for teens helps you take control of your plate.|
|Be a Fit Kid A lot of people talk about fit kids, but how do you become one? Here are five rules to live by, if you want to eat right, be active, and maintain a healthy weight.|
|Metabolic Syndrome Metabolic syndrome is a signal that someone could be on the road to serious health problems. Find out more about it in this article for teens.|
|Healthy Weight: Your Personal Plan Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows it can be a struggle. The best way to lose weight is to focus on making small, specific changes that are easy to stick with in the long run. Use our plan to get there!|
|How Can I Feel Better About My Body? It's normal to wish you could change something about your body. Find out more about these feelings in this article for kids.|
|What's the Right Weight for My Height? One of the biggest questions guys and girls have is whether they're the right weight. Because the body is growing and changing so much during adolescence, it can be tough to answer this question.|
|I'm Not Fat. Why Does My BMI Say I'm Overweight? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Managing Your Weight Has your doctor told you to lose weight? Get ideas on food, fitness, and staying motivated. We've also got weight management tools and recipes designed just for teens.|
|When Being Overweight Is a Health Problem A couple of pounds of extra body fat are not a health risk for most people. But when people are severely overweight, it can cause health problems.|
|Metabolic Syndrome Metabolic syndrome is a group of health problems that put kids at risk for heart disease and diabetes. With lifestyle changes, however, many kids are able to improve their health and reduce their risk of disease.|
|Body Mass Index (BMI) Body mass index (BMI) is a calculation that uses your height and weight to estimate how much body fat you have. BMI, although not a perfect method for judging someone's weight, is often a good way to check on how a kid is growing.|
|Body Mass Index (BMI) Charts Doctors use body mass index (BMI) measurements to assess a child's physical growth in relation to other kids the same age. Here's how to calculate BMI and understand what the numbers mean.|
|Dealing With Feelings When You're Overweight If a person is struggling with extra weight, it can add to the emotional ups and downs of being a teen. Get some tips on coping here.|
|Healthy Eating Good nutrition and a balanced diet help kids grow up healthy. Here's how to improve nutrition and encourage smart eating habits.|
|What's the Right Weight for Me? TV shows, movies, and magazines show pictures of people who are thin. Does that mean being thin is best? Not necessarily. Find out more by reading this article for kids.|
|Is Dieting OK for Kids? What is dieting and should kids do it, too? Find out in this article for kids.|
|What Being Overweight Means Being overweight has become a serious problem for many kids and adults. Find out what it means to be overweight in this article just for kids.|
|Kids and Exercise Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit sleep better and are better able to handle physical and emotional challenges.|
|Your Child's Weight "What's the right weight for my child?" is one of the most common questions parents have. It seems like a simple one, but it's not always easy to answer.|
|Keeping Portions Under Control Waistlines have been expanding over the last few decades. Part of the problem is what we eat, but another is quantity. Are our plates simply piled too high?|
|Why Exercise Is Cool Exercise can help keep a kid's body fit and healthy. Learn more about what exercise can do for you in this article for kids.|
|Learning About Calories You've probably heard about calories. Are they good or bad for you? Find out in this article for kids.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.