Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the United States. About 17% of children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese. There are many serious health consequences of being obese, including increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems. Children who continue to be overweight into adulthood are at greater risk for serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends routine obesity screening of children starting at age 2. At least once a year, a health care provider should assess a child's weight status. This is the recommendation of a federally-convened expert committee, one that represents 15 national health care organizations, including AAP. The child's weight and height as well as age and sex are considered in determining the child's body mass index (BMI) percentile. BMI is a useful tool for estimating body fat.
- Overweight: An overweight child (one whose BMI is between the 85th percentile and the 94th percentile on standardized growth charts) faces additional health risks.
- Obese: An obese child (at or above the 95th percentile on standardized growth charts) faces even more serious health risks.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force revised its guidelines in early 2010 to recommend that clinicians screen children ages 6 to 18 years for obesity and refer them to programs to promote improvements in weight status. The Task Force has found that the BMI is an acceptable measure for determining excess weight and defines "overweight" and "obese" as above.
Being overweight is one of the most common problems seen by pediatricians. At each well-child visit, the following should be discussed: the child's dietary patterns, levels of physical activity, and sedentary behaviors. The family's history of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure are important considerations as are a number of other physical measurements the health care provider can take. The goal is to prevent and address the problems of overweight and obesity through identification and early interventions, such as diet and exercise, to achieve a healthy weight and BMI.
Children's body mass calculations need to be accurate and related to their growth charts. A visit to a health care provider will provide you with the most reliable information, but the calculator on the CDC web site (in Links below) can help you determine if your child is at risk of being overweight.
Sources Used in Current Review
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood Overweight and Obesity. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/index.html through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed May 2012.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basics About Childhood Obesity. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/basics.html through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed May 2012.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Overweight and Obesity. Spotlight: Task Force Recommends Obesity Screening of Children. Available online at http://www2.aap.org/obesity/USPSTF.html through http://www2.aap.org. Accessed May 2012.