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Obesity

Your one stop shop for everything you need to know about obesity. Discover the health risks of obesity, how it can be caused by genetic factors, and put common obesity myths to rest, once and for all.

What You Need to Know About Today's Childhood Obesity Rates

Almost 14 million children and adolescents are considered obese. As many factors come into play regarding childhood obesity rates, we discuss solutions to overcome them here.

What You Need to Know About Today's Childhood Obesity Rates


Obesity is a growing health issue spreading to all populations and generations, including young children and adolescents. Childhood obesity increases the risk of health conditions formerly considered to be adult-dominant, including type 2 diabetes.

Despite the complexity of the issue, health organizations and professionals continue to make efforts to reduce such risks. Find out current childhood obesity statistics and how to deter and prevent the rising numbers.

Childhood Obesity Facts

Childhood obesity is a growing health problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the following obesity facts for children and adolescents aged 2-19 years:

• The prevalence of obesity was 18.5 percent and affected about 13.7 million children and adolescents.

• Obesity prevalence was 13.9 percent among 2 to 5-year-olds, 18.4 percent among 6 to 11-year-olds, and 20.6 percent among 12 to 19-year-olds. Childhood obesity is also more common among certain populations.

• Hispanics (25.8 percent) and non-Hispanic blacks (22.0 percent) had higher obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic whites (14.1 percent).

• Non-Hispanic Asians (11 percent) had lower obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics.

Consequences of Childhood Obesity

Carrying excess body weight at a young age can impact short and long-term health. Children considered obese are at greater risk of developing a number of health conditions.

These include, but are not limited to, the following:

• High blood pressure, also known as hypertension

• Heart disease

• Compromised bone health

• High glucose levels, which can lead to type 2 diabetes

• Certain forms of cancer

• Joint pain and arthritis

• Low self-esteem

• Anxiety and depression

Causes of Childhood Obesity

Obesity is complex, including during childhood. However, there are many driving forces behind what causes childhood obesity, including:

• Genetics and family history of overweight or obesity

• Dietary patterns, particularly a high intake of calorie-dense foods laden in added sugar and fat

• Physical inactivity, which may be the consequence of too much screentime

• Psychological and emotional factors, including stress and boredom

• Socioeconomic factors, mostly related to food access and availability

• Certain medications and medical conditions

Whereas some contributors are fixed, including genetics, there are changes one can make to lower obesity risks.

Childhood Obesity Solutions & Prevention

First and foremost, children should not be put on a weight loss plan unless directed under a healthcare professional. Instead, caregivers are encouraged to promote a healthy lifestyle to build healthy habits.

Helpful solutions and preventative tips mostly relate to diet and physical activity. Acting as a role model for younger generations is extremely valuable, too.

1. Introduce colorful, nutrient-rich foods.

Introducing new and healthy food options starting at a young age can flourish lasting habits. Continue to expose foods regularly and be creative when doing so.

Creative ways to entice children to new foods may include:

• Enhance the appeal of fruits and veggies by coloring the plate or crafting into fun treats. For instance, prepare "ants on a log" for a simple, yet healthy snack. Smear peanut butter into the hollow area of the celery stalk then sprinkle raisin "ants."

• Explore foods together at the farmer's market or at the grocery store. Let them choose a new product to sample.

• Cook foods in various forms, including raw, sautéed, and roasted.

• Allow kids to get hands-on in the kitchen. This allows them to understand how simple ingredients can transform into flavorful meals. Try to keep calm and patient, as messes are bound to happen!

• Let them be included in the entire menu planning process. Developing a daily or weekly menu encourages creativity and strategic thinking of what well-balanced meals and snacks should entail.

2. Limit added sugar intake.

Sugar is added to an extensive variety of products - in soft drinks, fruit juices, dressings, sauces, ice creams. Really, sugar is deep in the food supply and America as a whole tends to consume too much.

The effects of sugar on kids and adult health is mostly tied to weight gain. However, eating too much sugar can also lead to chronic health conditions, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The American Heart Association lays out how much sugar kids should have to improve health outcomes. Children aged 2 through 18 should consume no more than 25 grams of sugar daily.

Knowing how to reduce sugar in childrens' diets can be extremely useful for preventing these health risks. Tips to reduce excess sugar include:

• Keep naturally sweet fruit on hand. When children are away from prepackaged cookies and other sweets, they are less likely to become accustomed to their intake. And when nutritious produce fills the diet, there is less room for sweets.

• Limit the availability of sugary treats. Create a healthier environment by reducing sugary, packaged products found in the pantry.

• Allow treats in moderation. Allow kids to enjoy a scoop of ice cream or cookie in moderation. On the flip side of the coin, strong when they are constantly demanding sugary drinks, treats, etc. Despite the hardship to say no, their health will appreciate the sugary absence in the long run.

3. Encourage physical activity.

Physical activity is vital for health in countless ways, including weight management, preventing chronic diseases, and boosting mental health.

The most current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend preschool-aged children (ages 3 through 5 years) should be physically active throughout the day to enhance growth and development. Adult caregivers should encourage active play that includes a variety of activity types.

Children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should do 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. The activity should include aerobic, muscle- and bone-strengthening exercises.

Ways to encourage your child to be physically active may include the following:

• Get active as a family. For instance, walking the dog together and ride bikes around the neighborhood.

• Including friends. Allow your child to invite friends to the park, community swimming pool, or simply come over for some unstructured play.

• Guiding their interests. Allow them to choose activities they enjoy, including sports. But also encourage them to explore other activities, including gymnastics and yoga.

4. Act as a role model for children.

Instilling healthy behaviors in children can change their developmental paths for the better. So as children's role models and/or providers, older generations need to set appropriate, healthy examples.

In addition to the tips provided above, sit down and eat meals together. Table dinners are valuable in promoting social interactions and forming good relationships with food. Teach proper table etiquette as well, including how to set the table and say "please" and "thank you."

Ultimately, creating a healthy lifestyle can be a long-term solution for protecting children's health. Working with a multidisciplinary team, such as with a doctor and dietitian, can be helpful depending on the child's needs as well.

Christy Zagarella's Photo
Written By Christy Zagarella, MS, RDN. Published on August 21, 2013. Updated on December 03, 2019.

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