For years, health officials have warned that the number of
overweight kids and teens now versus 25 years ago has reached
epidemic proportions, as children of all ages continue to eat more
unhealthy foods and exercise far less. But, for the first time in
decades, it looks like the childhood obesity rate has actually
leveled off rather than gone up.
Looking at data from annual national health surveys by the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2003 to 2004
and 2005 to 2006, researchers analyzed more than 8,000 2- to
-19-year-olds' body mass index (or BMI, an estimate of body fat
using height and weight measurements). Then they compared the most
recent statistics with previous years (from 1999 to 2000 and 2001
What they found: "no significant changes" in kids'
(both boys' and girls') high BMI scores between 2003 and
2006, and no "statistically significant trends" from 1999
to 2006. So, the good news is that obesity rates aren't
increasing after all. The bad news: The number of overweight kids
isn't decreasing either, although the statistics aren't in
yet for the 2007 to 2008 period, of course.
But the "why" behind these latest findings remains to
be seen. Researchers will have to spend a lot more time looking
into what could be causing the obesity rates to plateau (like
whether the public awareness campaigns to encourage kids and
families to lead healthier lifestyles is finally working).
Still, the findings from 2003 to 2006 are definitely staggering,
with about 32% of kids and teens being considered overweight or
What This Means to You
Even if childhood obesity rates don't seem to be going up or
down, it's still a major problem for today's kids and teens
as millions are still overweight or at risk of becoming
And weighing too much isn't just a matter of how children
. Kids and teens who are obese or overweight are also at risk for a
wide range of physical, emotional, and psychological health issues
that aren't as obvious to the naked eye, like:
- type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- bone and joint problems
- difficulty sleeping
- early puberty
- unhealthy dieting habits and eating disorders (like anorexia
nervosa and bulimia)
- being teased, bullied, or rejected by peers (even as early as
- low self-esteem (often from being teased, bullied, or
rejected by peers)
- substance abuse
- suicidal thoughts
When all of that excess childhood weight carries into adulthood,
the serious - even deadly - risks can include strokes, heart
disease, and heart failure.
No matter what your child's weight, it's important to
instill the fundamentals of eating right and exercising from the
get-go. To help maintain a healthy lifestyle in your household:
- Encourage kids to be physically active every day and to try a
variety of sports and activities.
- Restrict TV, computer, and video game time to no more than 2
hours of quality content each day (and none for kids under
- Stock and serve a variety of healthy foods and keep those
with added fat and sugar to a minimum.
- Eat meals together as often as possible - and without TV as
an added guest!
- Don't use food as a reward for good behavior or try to
stop bad behavior with treats.
- Ditch the clean-plate club. When kids say they're full,
let them stop eating, even if there's food left on the plate.
This reinforces the idea of eating only when hungry.
And if you're worried your child may be overweight, the
sooner you can make an appointment with your doctor, the better -
just as you would if you suspected your child had any other medical
Be sure to ask about your child's most recent BMI, which
doctors usually start calculating at regular checkups from 2 years
old on up. Even though you can calculate your child's BMI score
yourself, it's important to go over kids' BMI with your
doctor so you can interpret the calculations over time as children
grow, instead of looking at each score individually.
That's because BMI doesn't always tell the full story.
For example, someone with a large frame or a lot of muscle instead
of excess fat (like a bodybuilder or athlete) can have a high BMI.
Likewise, a small person with a small frame may have a normal BMI
but could still have too much body fat.
Whatever the BMI score shows, don't hesitate to talk to your
doctor if you have any concerns about your child's weight. Some
physicians may even be hesitant to bring up weight concerns for
fear of offending parents - and their kids. But don't be afraid
to act as your child's best health advocate by starting the
If your doctor says your child's weight is an issue, you can
work together to make maintaining a healthy lifestyle a positive
experience instead of a stressful, all-consuming race to trim
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: May 2008
Source: "High Body Mass Index for Age Among U.S. Children
and Adolescents 2003-2006,"
Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
, May 28, 2008.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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