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Childhood Obesity

Childhood Obesity Basics

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Updated December 04, 2008

Childhood Obesity Statistics

According to the latest childhood obesity statistics from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, "an estimated 16 percent of children and adolescents ages 6-19 years are overweight."

Even more are at risk of becoming overweight.

This is why so many health experts talk about the childhood obesity epidemic.

Childhood Obesity Risk Factors

Looking at the risk factors for obesity, especially poor eating habits and inactivity, can help you understand who's to blame for the rise in childhood obesity:

  • Nutrition - many overweight children are eating oversized portions and too many of the wrong foods, including:
  • Physical Activity - a lack of physical activity is another big risk factor for childhood obesity
  • Genetics - a family history of obesity
  • Sleep - you might think that sleeping too much would increase your child's risk of childhood obesity, but surprisingly, many studies show that not getting enough sleep increases the risk of childhood obesity.

Preventing Childhood Obesity

Although you can't change genetics, you can work to change all of the other risk factors for childhood obesity. These resources should help:

Taking our childhood obesity quiz might also be helpful for parents trying to fight and prevent childhood obesity.

Is Your Child Overweight?

Do you know if your child is overweight?

Surprisingly, a lot of parents of overweight children don't actually know they are overweight.

You can find out by asking your pediatrician to calculate your child's body mass index or BMI, a formula that can help determine if your child is overweight, underweight, or at a healthy weight. Or use this online BMI calculator if you know your child's current weight and height.

Calculating a child's BMI is also important for all of those children who are already at a healthy weight, but think that they are overweight and may have an eating disorder.

Weight Loss

If your child is overweight, you should likely work with your pediatrician and/or a registered dietitian to help him lose weight, especially since overweight teenagers have a 70% chance of becoming overweight adults.

Having specific weight loss goals, in addition to more specific advice on how to eat healthier and how much more active they need to be, can also be helpful.

With these weight loss goals in mind, you can now try to help your child reach those goals by:

  • encouraging moderate physical activity for at least 60 minutes on most days
  • decreasing the amount of screen time to less than two hours a day, which includes time spent on the computer, watching TV, and playing video games
  • figuring out how many calories your child needs with this calorie calculator
  • understanding that there are about 3,500 calories in a pound of fat
  • keeping a drink diary to help reduce how many calories your child is getting from sugary drinks
  • learn to choose healthy food for your child to eat, including fruits and vegetables, and teach him to make healthy choices when he eats away from home
  • make sure he is eating healthy snacks, so that snack time doesn't turn into an extra meal
  • encouraging your child to get a good nights sleep, keeping in mind that teens need about 9 hours of sleep, children between the ages of 6 and 12 need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep, and that preschoolers and toddlers need even more.
  • moving up your weight loss goals after a few months if your child still needs to lose weight and has been successful with his initial goals. For example, some overweight teens will need to lose about two pounds every month or week to get to a healthy weight.

Most importantly, encourage healthy eating and a healthy weight instead of pushing "dieting" on your child.

Risks of Childhood Obesity

With the increase in childhood obesity comes an increase in a number of diseases and conditions that are associated with obesity. Some of the health effects of childhood obesity include:

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Active Healthy Living: Prevention of Childhood Obesity Through Increased Physical Activity. PEDIATRICS Vol. 117 No. 5 May 2006, pp. 1834-1842.

American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Prevention of Pediatric Overweight and Obesity. PEDIATRICS Vol. 112 No. 2 August 2003, pp. 424-430. Reaffirmed February 1, 2007.

National Center for Health Statistics. Prevalence of Overweight Among Children and Adolescents.

NIH. Weight-control Information Network. Statistics Related to Overweight and Obesity.

Short Sleep Duration in Infancy and Risk of Childhood Overweight. Elsie M. Taveras; Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman; Emily Oken; Erica P. Gunderson; Matthew W. Gillman. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162(4):305-311.

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