Obesity -- Children and Teens

Obesity is a high amount of body fat. It leads to a much higher body weight than is normal. This level of body fat can cause serious health issues.

  • Causes

    Calories are consumed from food and drinks. They are necessary for physical activity and all basic body functions.
    A healthy weight is reached by balancing the number of calories you eat and the number of calories you use.

    Weight gain occurs when the number of calories eaten is greater than the number of calories used. If this happens regularly, it will lead to obesity. Calorie imbalances happen most often with eating too much food and low levels of physical activity. Less often, it may be caused by a medical condition or medication.

  • Definition

    Obesity is a high amount of body fat. It leads to a much higher body weight than is normal. This level of body fat can cause serious health issues.

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your child's symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

    Your doctor may use the body mass index (BMI). This is a tool to determine if a child's weight is ideal or outside of the desired range. BMI is based on height and weight. Normal values are based on a child's sex and age. In children, the BMI results are compared to the results of other children and teens in the same age range. This will account for growth and body changes as a child ages. BMI levels for anyone under age 20 are as follows:

    • Underweight
      —BMI at or below the 5th percentile for the age group
    • Desired weight
      —BMI between the 5th-84th percentiles for the age group
    • Overweight
      —BMI between the 85th-94th percentiles for the age group
    • Obese
      —BMI at or above the 95th percentile for the age group

    Fat may need to be measured. This can be done with:

    • Tape measurements of the waist, hip, and abdomen—used to estimate the amount of fat deposited in the skin and inside the abdominal cavity
    • Skinfold caliper—a small tool that measures the fat just beneath the skin
    • Electrical measurements—a small electrical pulse can help measure the amount of fat tissue and non-fat tissue in the body

    Your child's bodily fluid may be tested. This can be done with blood tests to look for other conditions that may increase body weight.

    The doctor may also do other tests to check for complications of obesity. These may include checking your child's blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol levels.

  • Prevention

    To help reduce your child’s chance of being overweight or obese:

    • Encourage your child to eat a healthy diet. It should be rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
    • Choose lean meats, poultry, and fish.
    • Serve reasonable portion sizes. Eat healthy meals together as a family.
    • Limit sugar-sweetened drinks. Encourage your child to drink water.
    • Encourage your child to get at least 60 minutes of activity most days of the week. The activity should be moderate to vigorous intensity. Ask your doctor for specific guidelines if your child is younger that 2 years old.
    • Limit screen time to two hours a day.
    • Make sure your child is getting enough sleep.
    • Set a good example for your children. Choose healthy food options. Be physically active.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your child's risk of being obese include:

    • Sleep problems such as poor sleeping habits or lack of sleep
    • Large birth weight
    • Lack of exercise
    • High level of sedentary activities like watching TV, playing on the computer, or playing video games
    • High consumption of fast food
    • High consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks
    • Overeating or binging—short periods when a very large amounts of food are eaten
    • Stressful life events or change
    • Family and peer problems
    • Low self-esteem
    • Depression
      and other emotional problems
    • Family history
    • Genetic factors
    • Ethnicity: African American, Hispanic, Native American
    • Taking certain medicines
    • Having certain illnesses or conditions

  • Symptoms

    The main symptom of obesity is increased weight. The midsection is the most common area to increase in thickness. There will also be obvious areas of fat deposits all over the body.

    Obese Body
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Treatment

    Personal habits, lifestyle, and family culture can all influence obesity. This means that a mix of treatment approaches may be best. To help your child manage weight, encourage healthy behaviors in your child and your family:

    Your doctor may recommend the following: