Childhood Obesity Facts

Posted at 5:04 PM on Sep 15, 2022


Daily we are presented with never-ending food options - many high in sugar, fat, and sodium. There seems to be a fast food restaurant on every corner, and you can get just about anything delivered to your door. With easy access to quick food options, we are seeing a staggering increase in the rates of childhood obesity. Children, in general, are not only eating a diet comprised of heavily processed foods but also moving less on average. Poor diet and lack of movement are a recipe for disaster. While the direct cause of childhood obesity is unknown, the data strongly suggests that diet and activity play a crucial role.

Childhood Obesity Facts
  • 19.7% of youths between 2-19 years are considered obese. This means that about 14.7 million American children and adolescents are obese.
  • Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex.
  • Obesity is a complex issue – there is no simple cause and effect.
  • Obesity is generally preventable.
  • The worldwide prevalence of obesity nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016.
  • In North America, childhood obesity rates have tripled over the past three decades.
  • Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of premature death and disability in adulthood.
  • Fewer than one-quarter of U.S. high school students, 23.2%, were physically active for at least 60 minutes daily, according to the 2020 report from Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS).
  • During the pandemic, the national rate of obesity among kids ages 2 to 19 increased to 22.4% in 2020, up from 19.3% in 2019 – according to Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS).
  • The Harvard School of Public health also notes that youth who are overweight or obese have substantially higher odds of remaining overweight or obese into adulthood.

How do I Know if my Child is Overweight or Obese?

Bring your child in for routine check-ups. Obtaining up-to-date height and weight are part of these visits, as is reviewing your child’s growth over time. You can see where your child fits on the growth curve and discuss factors that may play a role in developing obesity. If you have concerns about your child’s weight, express this to your doctor.

What to do if my Child is Obese

First, always talk to your doctor. Next, it is important to understand that children should never be on calorie-restrictive diets. Nutrition is vital for growing children, and deprivation is never advised. Incorporate healthy changes for the whole family, focusing on developing healthy habits and not weight loss. The following recommendations help all children live a healthy life:

  • Regular exercise – Children 6 to 17 years should get 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. Read “The Importance of Regular Physical Activity” to learn more about recommendations.
  •  Limit screen time – Screen time usually equates to sedentary time, so be sure to limit the amount of time your child spends sitting still staring at a screen.
  • Make sleep a priority – Children 6 to 18 years old generally need nightly 8-12 hours of sleep.
  • Be a good role model.
  • Make movement a regular family activity – think of heading to the park to play, setting up a volleyball net in the backyard, or taking an evening walk every night.
  • Keep processed foods out of the house – out of sight, out of mind.
  • Wait 15 minutes before giving additional servings.
  • Make fresh fruits and vegetables readily available for snacking.
  • Eat the rainbow – Think of eating a wide variety of colors with every meal. Here is an example of a meal - eggplant parmesan - which can be made to include the entire rainbow:
    • Red: Tomatoes – Used for the sauce, but even better if you make your own homemade sauce with fresh, locally grown tomatoes.
    • Orange: Orange sweet peppers – Saute and toss these into your sauce or use them as a colorful topping.
    • Yellow: Spaghetti squash – Great substitute for traditional noodles.
    • Green: Spinach – Saute and add in your sauce. No one will ever know it’s in there! You can learn more about getting your family to eat more greens by reading “Dark Leafy Greens – How to Get Your Family to Eat More of Them”.
    • Blue: Fresh blueberries served as a sweet treat after the meal.
    • Indigo: Eggplant – The dish's star, lightly breaded and baked to perfection – yum!
  • Violet – Mix up your blueberries with some blackberries, and why not add in some bright red pop of color with some fresh sliced strawberries too?      

In general, what’s healthy for you is healthy for your children. Practicing healthy habits as a family is a great way to keep everyone’s weight in control and live a better, longer life. You can learn more about this topic by reading our “Healthy Weight for Children” article.


Resources to find additional information: