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.
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.
Children of African American, Hispanic, and Native American descent at are greater risk of obesity.
Factors that may increase your child's risk of obesity include:
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.
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Excess weight increases the chance of a child having:
You will be asked about your child's symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your child's 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:
Fat may need to be measured. This can be done with:
Blood tests may be done to look for other conditions that may increase body weight.
Other tests may be done to check for complications of obesity. These may include checking your child's blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol levels.
Personal habits, lifestyle, and family culture can all influence obesity. This means that a mix of treatment approaches is best. To help your child manage weight, encourage healthy behaviors in your child and your family.
Your doctor may recommend the following:
Your child may be referred to a dietitian. A dietitian can help make a diet plan for your child. The plan may include a daily calorie goal, healthy food options, and tips to change your child’s diet.
Have your child follow basic healthy eating habits, such as:
Children rarely prepare their own foods. It is important that a parent participate in healthier eating habits. For example:
In more severe cases, your child may have to follow a meal plan.
Encourage your child to participate in physical activity. Sign older children up for sports or activities. Develop some family-based activities that everyone can enjoy.
General guidelines for your child include:
In more severe cases, your doctor may provide a specific activity plan.
Your child may struggle with weight loss or being obese. Some support options or actions include:
Some children who are obese may already have serious conditions due to weight. This may include problems with the heart or lungs, diabetes, or bone and joint problems. These conditions may require separate treatment.
Other children may have a hard time losing weight despite following guidelines. For these teenagers, other options may be considered, such as:
To help reduce your child’s chance of being overweight or obese:
American Heart Association
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Children's BMI tool for schools. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/childrens_bmi/tool_for_schools.html. Accessed January 28, 2021.
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Obesity in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115153/Obesity-in-children-and-adolescents. Accessed January 28, 2021.
Obesity in children and teens. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Obesity_In_Children_And_Teens_79.aspx. Accessed January 28, 2021.
Overweight and obesity. Kid's Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/body/overweight_obesity.html. Accessed January 28, 2021.
Overweight in children. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/Overweight-in-Children_UCM_304054_Article.jsp. Accessed January 28, 2021.
Tips for parents: Ideas to help children maintain a healthy weight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/children/index.html. Accessed January 28, 2021.
3/10/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115153/Obesity-in-children-and-adolescents: Trost SG, Sundal D. et al. Effects of a pediatric weight management program with and without active video games: a randomized trial. JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(5):407-413.
Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Chelsea Skucek, MSN, BS, RNC-NIC Last Updated: 1/28/2021