Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the United States. About 17% of children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese, and at least three out of four obese teens grow up to become obese adults. 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. Those 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. 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 their body mass index (BMI) percentile. BMI is a useful tool for estimating body fat.
- Overweight: An overweight youth (one whose BMI is between the 85th percentile and the 94th percentile on standardized growth charts) faces additional health risks.
- Obese: An obese youth (at or above the 95th percentile on standardized growth charts or a BMI of greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2, whichever is lower) faces even more serious health risks.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force revised its guidelines in early 2010 to recommend that clinicians screen youth 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.
At each well visit, the following should be discussed: the teen'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 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 teen 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.
HealthyChildren.org. Obesity's Impact on Teen Health. Available online at http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/obesity/pages/Obesitys-Impact-on-Teen-Health.aspx through http://www.healthychildren.org. Accessed May 2012.