Child Obesity

Child obesity is when a child has a BMI above the 95th percentile of what is considered healthy for a child at that age.  About 1 in 5 or 20% of children in the U.S. are obese, a number that has tripled since the 1960’s.  Children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults.  They can have lifelong health issues such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even cancer.  Socially and emotionally it takes a toll on the child with bullying, lower self-esteem, worse school achievement, loneliness, and an increased risk of depression and suicide attempts (Berk, 2013; Berger, 2018; Feldman, 2014).  What causes child obesity?

Child obesity is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There are inherited genes that predispose certain children to be overweight.  For instance, adopted children tend to have weights that are more similar to their birth parents than their adoptive parents, and identical twins are more likely than fraternal twins to both be obese.  But genes are just one factor (Berk, 2013; Feldman, 2014).  The child’s environment at home and at school also matters.

A child with a poor diet at home, with too few fruits and vegetables, and too many sweets and fats, as well as school lunch programs that don’t have nutritious options have contributed to child obesity.  American school children don’t get enough exercise with school fitness surveys showing that these children are not very physically fit.  During their free time many children watch television and play on their devices.  When children are using electronics they are not running around being active and they often eat unhealthy foods (Berk, 2013; Feldman, 2014).  So what can be done?

The goal with food is to have children who are able to choose a healthy, balanced diet, and to stop eating when they are full.  Parents who are too controlling of their child's food intake can cause food-related issues for the child and problems in the parent-child relationship.  What parents can do is choose to put healthy foods in the home, avoid fast foods, and increase family exercise.  Parents and teachers can model healthy eating and being active.  Schools can do better at incorporating physical activity into the curriculum in a fun way.  With obese children if they are being active and eating better, in time they will lose weight because they are still growing.  Parents can also decide to get extra help from a dietician for a structured eating plan and/or from a therapist if there are things the child wants to talk about like bullying, depression, or self-esteem issues that are connected to the overeating (Feldman, 2014; National Institutes of Health, 2019).



Berger, K. S. (2018). The developing person: Through Childhood and adolescence (11th ed.). New York, NY: Worth.

Berk, L. E. (2013). Child development (9thed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Feldman, R. S. (2014). Child development: A topical approach. Boston, MA: Pearson.

National Institutes of Health (2019). Helping your child who is overweight. Retrieved from