What is Obesity
Morbid Obesity
Childhood Obesity
Adult Obesity
Related Conditions
Obesity Stigmas
Causes of Obesity
Obesity in America
>>> Obesity Basics >>> Childhood Obesity  

Childhood Obesity is growing at critical pace.

Obesity in children and adolescents is a serious issue with many health and social consequences that often continue into adulthood. Implementing prevention programs and getting a better understanding of treatment for youngsters is important to controlling the obesity epidemic. An Obese child has 68% probability of being obese as an adult.

Many parents are rightly concerned about their child's weight and how it affects them. They look for specific answers for prevention and treatment options. Unfortunately, the state of the science is a lot less precise than we would like.

Are kids too concerned about their weight? What are the best strategies for prevention?

What treatments work over a long time?

AOTA is trying to answer those and many other questions. In many cases, common sense works well.

In situations where there are serious health, psychological or social problems, parents should seek out the best possible advice.

Note: The term "childhood obesity" may refer to both children and adolescents. In general, we use the word, "children" to refer to 6 to 11 years of age, and "adolescents" to 12 to 17 years of age. If otherwise, and when possible, we will use a specific age or age range.



Risks Associated with Childhood Obesity

Children who are considered obese are 70 percent more likely to continue being obese into adulthood. In addition, they are at greater risk for serious medical issues such as:

  • Heart disease

  • High cholesterol

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • Sleep apnea

  • Cancer

Aside from the clinical perspective, children who are obese face social discrimination, leading to low self-esteem and depression.

Causes of Childhood Obesity
Although the causes of childhood obesity are widespread, certain factors are targeted as major contributors to this epidemic. Causes include:

  • Environment

  • Lack of physical activity

  • Heredity and Family

  • Dietary Patterns

  • Socioeconomic status


Today’s environment plays a major role in shaping the habits and perceptions of children and adolescents. The prevalence of television commercials promoting unhealthy foods and eating habits is a large contributor. In addition, children are surrounded by environmental influences that demote the importance of physical activity.

Today, it is estimated that approximately 40 to 50 percent of every dollar that is spent on food is spent on food outside the home in restaurants, cafeterias, sporting events, etc. In addition, as portion sizes have increased, when people eat out they tend to eat a larger quantity of food (calories) than when they eat at home.

Beverages such as soda and juice boxes also greatly contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic. It is not uncommon for a 32 ounce soda to be marketed toward children, which contains approximately 400 calories. The consumption of soda by children has increased throughout the last 20 years by 300 percent. Scientific studies have documented a 60 percent increase risk of obesity for every regular soda consumed per day. Box drinks, juice, fruit drinks and sports drinks present another significant problem. These beverages contain a significant amount of calories and it is estimated that 20 percent of children who are currently overweight are overweight due to excessive caloric intake from beverages.

Lack of Physical Activity

Children in today’s society show a decrease in overall physical activity. The growing use of computers, increased time watching television and decreased physical education in schools, all contribute to children and adolescents living a more sedentary lifestyle.

Another major factor contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic is the increased sedentary lifestyle of children. School-aged children spend most of their day in school where their only activity comes during recess or physical education classes. In the past, physical education was required on a daily basis. Currently, only 8 percent of elementary schools and less than 7 percent of middle schools and high schools have daily physical education requirements in the U.S.

Heredity and Family

Science shows that genetics play a role in obesity. It has been proven that children with obese parents are more likely to be obese. Estimates say that heredity contributes between 5 to 25 percent of the risk for obesity.

However, genes alone do not always dictate whether a child is overweight or obese. Learned behaviors from parents are a major contributor. Parents, especially of those whose children are at risk for obesity at a young age, should promote healthy food and lifestyle choices early in their development.

Dietary Patterns

Over the past few decades, dietary patterns have changed significantly. The average amount of calories consumed per day by has dramatically increased. Furthermore, the increase in caloric intake has also decreased the nutrients needed for a healthy diet.

Food portions also play an important role in the unhealthy diet patterns that have evolved. The prevalence of “super size” options and “all you can eat” buffets create a trend in overeating. Combined with a lack of physical activity, children are consuming more and burning off less.

Socioeconomic Status

Children and adolescents that come from lower-income homes are at greater risk of being obese. This is a result of several factors that influence behaviors and activities.

Lower-income children cannot always afford to partake in extracurricular activities, resulting in a decrease in physical activity. In addition, families who struggle to pay bills and make a living often opt for convenience foods, which are higher in calories, fat and sugar.

Educational levels also contribute to the socioeconomic issue associated with obesity. Parents with little to no education have not been exposed to information about proper nutrition and healthy food choices. This makes it difficult to instill those important values in their children.

What to do about Treating Childhood Obesity
Treating obesity in children and adolescents differs from treatment in adults. Involving the family in a child’s weight management program is a key element to treatment. As a support system, family is integral in ensuring weight management goals are met.

It is important to talk with your physician about options for treating childhood obesity. The various treatments of obesity in children and adolescents include:

Geographic Patterns Among Low-Income, Preschool-Aged Children 2006-2008

County-level data demonstrate the geographic variability of obesity within a state. In general, obesity prevalence is highest in western and southern California, southern Texas, the central and north eastern seaboard, and some Appalachian states. Nearly all counties touching the Pacific Ocean have prevalences above 15%, whereas many of the counties in the Rocky Mountains have prevalences below 10%.

County-specific rates show a considerable range of obesity prevalence, from <5% in some counties of Colorado and Nevada to >20% in other counties.



Map of Childhood Obesity