obesity in children is a serious health concern. Overweight children are more likely to have
high blood pressure, and
type 2 diabetes. They also may deal with social discrimination from their peers, which can lead to poor self-esteem and
depression. What’s more, overweight kids have a higher chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.
But what does this mean? How do you know if your child is overweight? The best way to find out is to schedule a visit with your child's doctor, who can tell you if your child’s weight is in a healthy range. But if you are concerned that your child may be overweight, there are some other ways you can assess your child’s weight.
The doctor will likely measure your child’s height and weight to monitor growth patterns during regular appointments. Most doctors use clinical growth charts to do this.
The doctor will use your child’s height and weight to determine what percentile your child falls into according to an age- and gender-appropriate growth chart. A percentile will tell you how your child’s height and weight compare to a nationally representative group of children of the same age and gender. For example, if your child falls into the 70th percentile for weight, approximately 70% of children your child’s age and gender are at a lower weight than your child.
Clinical growth charts can be accessed at the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
For children aged 2-20, BMI (body mass index)-for-age charts are a way to assess their weight in relation to their height. Since childrens’ and teens’ body fatness changes as they grow, the cutoff points that adults use for BMI are not applicable to children. Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed charts for assessing children’s BMI according to their age and gender. Like clinical growth charts, BMI-for-age charts indicate which percentile your child falls into.
BMI-for-age growth charts can be accessed at the
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
The CDC has established percentile cutoff points to help doctors and parents determine whether a child is of a healthy weight. Body composition (percentage of muscle and fat) can influence these numbers, but for most children, the following cutoff points apply accurately to children aged 2-20:
|Classification||Cutoff Point of BMI for age|
|Underweight||Less than the 5th percentile|
|Healthy weight||5th precentile-84th percentile|
|Obese||95th percentile or greater|
If your child is overweight, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests you do the following:
- Be supportive.
Make sure your child knows that you love and accept them at any weight. Listen to your child’s concerns about weight and offer your support, acceptance, and encouragement.
- Encourage healthy eating habits.
Make an effort to keep a variety of healthful foods—fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and lean meats—on hand. Practice healthful eating habits such as eating breakfast everyday, eating fast food less often, and healthy snacking.
- Encourage daily physical activity.
Help your child get some exercise everyday. When it’s safe and possible, let them walk to school, the store, or friends' houses. It also helps to encourage physical education in school, participation in extracurricular sports teams or classes, and to be active as a family.
- Discourage too many inactive hobbies.
Limit the time your child is allowed to watch TV, play video games, and surf the internet. Instead, help your child come up with fun alternatives to these hobbies.
- Be a positive role model.
Show your child that you lead a healthy lifestyle by eating healthful foods and being physically active. This way, your child will be more likely to adopt healthy eating and exercise habits that will last a lifetime.
- Seek help.
Your doctor and local recreation or community center may offer information and programs that will help you manage your child’s weight. Seek help from these resources if you need it.
About BMI for children and teens. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/childrens_bmi/about_childrens_bmi.html. Updated September 13, 2011. Accessed March 13, 2014.
Childhood obesity. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 8, 2014. Accessed March 13, 2014.
Clinical growth charts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/clinical_charts.htm. Updated August 4, 2009. Accessed March 13, 2014.
Helping your overweight child. Weight Control Information website. Available at:
http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/PDFs/overwtchild7-04.pdf. Updated June 2013. Accessed March 13, 2014.
Obesity in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 16, 2012. Accessed June 1, 2012.
Prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents: United States, Trends 1963–1965 Through 2007-2008. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity_child_07_08/obesity_child_07_08.htm. Accessed March 13, 2014.
Use and interpretation of the CDC growth charts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/growthcharts/resources/growthchart.pdf. Updated May 2013. Accessed March 13, 2014.
Last reviewed March 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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