September 26, 2022

Understanding Childhood Obesity 

childhood obesity

Childhood obesity is a medical condition that can affect young people and also increase their risk of health problems later in life. That includes issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes

Childhood obesity is also a condition that can’t be diagnosed simply by observing a child’s appearance.

Obesity and Body Type

Assessing a child’s physical stature isn’t an accurate way to determine if they’re obese. Some children have larger frames than others and carry extra pounds without actually meeting the standards for obesity.  

This doesn’t mean a child’s weight should be ignored or automatically attributed to them being “big-boned.” Instead, parents and doctors should look to growth charts and body mass index (BMI) calculations to gauge obesity accurately.

Diagnosing Childhood Obesity

As part of well-child care, doctors calculate a child’s BMI, which is their weight in kilograms divided by their height in meters squared. Then, they find the figure on a BMI-for-age growth chart and calculate the child’s BMI percentile — meaning how they compare to children of the same age and sex. 

A young person is diagnosed as overweight or obese based on standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • 85th to 94th percentile: overweight
  • 95th percentile and above: obesity
  • 99th percentile or higher: severe obesity

Childhood Obesity Causes and Risk Factors

Childhood obesity occurs when a young person consumes more calories daily than their body burns. Risk factors for a child reaching this state of caloric imbalance include:

  • Poor diet. Eating foods high in calories and low in nutrition increases the risk of obesity. This includes baked goods, fast food, desserts, candy, and sugary beverages like fruit juices and sports drinks. 
  • Lack of exercise. Sedentary activities such as playing video games and watching TV don’t burn many calories. In addition, children are frequently exposed to advertisements for unhealthy foods while watching television.
  • Genetics and family behaviors. Children with obese parents are more likely to become obese. This may be due to genes predisposing them to the condition and an unhealthy lifestyle.
  • Socioeconomic factors. Children in communities with limited access to fresh, healthy foods have a higher risk of obesity. 
  • Psychological/emotional issues. Stress at home, in social situations, etc., can increase obesity risk, as can other psychological or emotional problems. This may be due to children overeating as a way to cope with these challenges. 
  • Medications. Certain prescription drugs can increase a child’s risk of developing obesity.  

Childhood Obesity Treatments

Doctors address childhood obesity in various ways. Treatments primarily focus on lifestyle factors and include working with a nutritionist to develop a healthier diet and increasing physical activity

Behavior modification can also play an essential role in overcoming childhood obesity. This treatment involves learning about behaviors that increase obesity risk and avoiding them. Doctors and counselors also encourage children to develop interests and pursue activities that keep them active and less focused on food.

In addition, doctors can prescribe medications and surgeries for childhood obesity. Surgery is typically only considered for children who are severely obese and whose weight is causing other medical problems. 

Learn More About Childhood Obesity from Baptist Health

It can be difficult to address childhood obesity without hurting your relationship with your child or risking their emotional well-being. For example, negative comments about your child’s weight or that of others (including you) can be harmful. Dieting and skipping meals can also be detrimental to a child’s physical and mental health. 

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s weight, their pediatrician is happy to answer them and help you find solutions. You can locate a Baptist Health physician near you using our online provider directory

Learn More.