Childhood Obesity: Statistics and Prevention


Unfortunately, higher numbers of children are overweight or obese today than at any other time in history. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a child is overweight if his or her weight falls between the 85th and 95th percentile for children of the same age, gender, and height on the body mass index (BMI) scale. The CDC classifies obesity as a child whose weight falls above the 95th percentile using the same measuring standards. To calculate BMI, divide a child’s weight converted to kilometers by his or her height in meters.

Statistics on Childhood Obesity

In 2016, the most recent year for which the CDC has released statistics related to childhood obesity, 18.5 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 19 had a BMI at 95 percent or higher than that of their peers. The breakdown per age group is as follows:

  • Ages 2 to 5, 13.9 percent
  • Ages 6 to 11, 18.4 percent
  • Ages 12 to 19, 20.6 percent

Obese children typically go on to become obese adults and have even greater trouble managing their weight as they age. They’re at risk of developing numerous health problems, most of which doctors previously only treated in adults. The most common obesity-related illnesses in children include:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes as well as insulin resistance and increased problems with glucose tolerance
  • Gallstones
  • Heartburn and other gastro-reflux conditions
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Joint pain

Overweight and obese children can also experience social and psychological problems such as bullying, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and loneliness.

How Do Children Gain Too Much Weight?

Children become overweight or obese in much the same way that adults too. This includes leading a sedentary lifestyle and eating foods low in nutritional quality and high in calories. The prevalence of video games, smartphones, and computers has caused many young people to engage in pastimes that have them sitting much of the time rather than playing active physical games with their friends or family members. Obesity tends to run in families both genetically and through the types of behavior modeled to children.

School Lunches Play an Important Role in a Child’s Weight

When it comes to your child eating lunch at school, you can either buy meals served by the school or pack your own. Since you’re not there to ensure that your child eats the meal, it’s important to teach him or her the importance of nutrition and how it helps students grow and learn.

One advantage of choosing a school lunch is that schools participating in the National School Lunch Program must meet certain nutrition requirements to obtain eligibility for reimbursement. If your child’s school participates in this program, you can feel confident that the school offers him or her a balanced lunch each day. Additionally, many schools send home lunch calendars with nutritional information about each day’s meals. This allows you to see things such as calories and the amount of fat, fiber, carbohydrates, and protein per serving.

The benefit of packing a lunch for your child is that you have more control over what he or she consumes. If your child is already overweight, eating a lunch with calorie control in mind is easier to do when you’re the one making it. Web MD offers several suggestions for parents to help make their child’s lunch more nutritious. If you plan to go the bagged lunch route, be sure that you have a good idea of what your child likes and doesn’t like so you’re not wasting food sending something that he or she will just throw away or trade with a friend for a potentially unhealthy food.

Sandwiches are simple to make and most kids like them. Even so, they can be boring to a child who eats them all the time. Try to mix things up a bit by changing the bread every few days. Some options to consider include pita bread, tortillas, whole-grain hamburger or hot dog buns, and raisin bread. Remember that contents for the sandwich don’t have to be the same old peanut butter and jelly. Here are some new ideas that are also more nutritious for your child:

  • Dried fruit
  • Shredded carrots
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Cashews, chopped celery, or water chestnuts in a tuna or chicken salad sandwich
  • Add hummus to a whole-wheat tortilla

If you prefer not to give your child a sandwich or need some ideas for side items, consider these:

  • String cheese
  • Applesauce
  • Yogurt
  • Fruit
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Baby carrots
  • Fruit salad
  • Cheese or fruit kabobs

When you make a home-cooked meal and there are leftovers the next day, consider sending some of them as your child’s school lunch as long as it isn’t something he or she would need to heat up.

For more healthy meal inspiration, check out the Western Maryland Health System’s Dietitian’s Favorites Cookbook.

Model an Active Lifestyle

If your kids see you enjoying an active lifestyle of sports leagues, working out at the gym, or going on frequent walks, they’re more likely to want to do the same. Encourage your child to play outside for a set time each day if the weather permits. Finding out if he or she likes specific sports and then signing up for a league can help build more physical activity into your child’s schedule as well.

If you’re concerned about your child’s weight and activity level, please to reach out to his or her pediatrician for additional recommendations.