Combatting Childhood Obesity
Recent scientific studies are beginning to show progress against the childhood obesity epidemic, but the numbers of young people affected by obesity remain at very high levels. Research has shown that declines in school-based physical activity programs and increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages are just some of the causes of the increase in childhood obesity in the United States.
Childhood Obesity Touches Approximately 1 of 6 Young People
Obesity now affects nearly 18% of all children and adolescents in the United States, and since 1980, the number has almost tripled. The good news is there are a number of strategies communities, states, schools, and parents can use to combat the childhood obesity epidemic. In honor of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, we recognize the extent of the obesity epidemic and its associated health risks and offer strategies that work in combatting the epidemic.
What Is Childhood Obesity?
Obesity has several harmful effects. It puts a child at risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, respiratory problems, and other conditions.
Obesity is determined by a formula called body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated by dividing body weight by height squared. Childhood obesity is defined as a BMI at or above 25 or at or above the 95th percentile. BMI does not measure body fat directly, but it is a reasonable indicator of percentage of body fat for most children and teens. You can use a simple online Child and Teen BMI Calculator to determine your child’s BMI.
Is It Getting Better?
According to CDC’s August 2013 Vital Signs report, after decades of rising obesity rates among low-income preschoolers aged 2–4 years, many states are now showing small declines in childhood obesity rates. Among older children, a recent CDC survey shows that school districts nationwide are making improvements by putting into action school nutrition policies and requiring physical education. Improvements in childhood obesity rates have also been noted at the local level. For example, a study conducted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and published in CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease(PCD) reported that childhood obesity has declined in Philadelphia. A waning in the consumption of sugary beverages, which contribute to childhood obesity, has also been noted by researchers, as seen in “Declines in Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Among Children in Los Angeles County, 2007 and 2011.” However, childhood obesity numbers are still too high. Although advances are being made in addressing the epidemic, researchers note that much work remains before childhood obesity rates begin to show a dramatic decline.
What Needs to Be Done?
The good news is we know what works. States, communities, schools, and parents can work together to help make the healthy choice the easy choice for children, adolescents, and their families by
- Supporting healthy school nutrition environments by providing a quality school meal program, and offering students only healthy and appealing food and beverages outside of the meal program.
- Developing Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs that include quality physical education, classroom physical activity breaks, recess, joint-use agreements, and opportunities for physical activity before, during, and after school.
- Increasing access to free drinking water and limiting the sale of drinks with added sugars in schools by strengthening nutrition standards for all foods and beverages in schools. Learn more at Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools, Water in Schools.
- Creating and maintaining safe neighborhoods for physical activity and improving access to parks and playgrounds. Learn more at National Center for Safe Routes to School and National Recreation and Parks Association.
What Can Parents Do?
A variety of environmental factors determine whether or not the healthy choice is the easy choice for children and their parents. American society has become characterized by environments that promote increased consumption of less healthful food and decreased physical activity. The good news is there are a number of steps you can take to make sure your child is healthy:
- Follow the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding age appropriate media time for kids whether at home, school, or child care. AAP Recommendation on Television Time for Children and Adolescents.
- Visit your child care center to see if it serves healthful foods and drinks, encourage physical activity and limit screen time. Learn more at National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies.
- Provide plenty of fruits and vegetables, limit foods high in solid fat and added sugars, and prepare healthier foods at family meals. Learn more at 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Healthy Recipes.
- Save money and calories by serving your family tap water instead of drinks with added sugars. Learn more at Rethink Your Drink.
- Making sure your child gets physical activity each day. Learn how much physical activity children need.
More information and research about childhood obesity is available in the following Preventing Chronic Disease articles.
- A Multilevel Approach to Estimating Small Area Childhood Obesity Prevalence at the Census Block-Group Level
- Increasing Physical Activity in Under-Resourced Communities Through School-Based, Joint-Use Agreements, Los Angeles County, 2010–2012
- SaludableOmaha: Development of a Youth Advocacy Initiative to Increase Community Readiness for Obesity Prevention, 2011–2012
- Prevalence, Disparities, and Trends in Obesity and Severe Obesity Among Students in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, School District, 2006–2010
- Childhood Obesity Task Forces Established by State Legislatures, 2001–2010
Get email updates
To receive email updates about this page, enter your email address:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30333
TTY: (888) 232-6348
- Contact CDC-INFO