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May.28.2020View related content
 Obesity, Pediatric

Obesity, Pediatric

Obesity is the condition of having too much total body fat. Being obese means that the child's weight is greater than what is considered healthy compared to other children of the same age, gender, and height. Obesity is determined by a measurement called BMI. BMI is an estimate of body fat and is calculated from height and weight. For children, a BMI that is greater than 95 percent of boys or girls of the same age is considered obese.
Obesity can lead to other health conditions, including:
  • Diseases such as asthma, type 2 diabetes, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Abnormal blood lipid levels.
  • Sleep problems.

What are the causes?

Obesity in children may be caused by:
  • Eating daily meals that are high in calories, sugar, and fat.
  • Being born with genes that may make the child more likely to become obese.
  • Having a medical condition that causes obesity, including:
    • Hypothyroidism.
    • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
    • Binge-eating disorder.
    • Cushing syndrome.
  • Taking certain medicines, such as steroids, antidepressants, and seizure medicines.
  • Not getting enough exercise (sedentary lifestyle).
  • Not getting enough sleep.
  • Drinking high amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks.

What increases the risk?

The following factors may make a child more likely to develop this condition:
  • Having a family history of obesity.
  • Having a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile (overweight).
  • Receiving formula instead of breast milk as an infant, or having exclusive breastfeeding for less than 6 months.
  • Living in an area with limited access to:
    • Parks, recreation centers, or sidewalks.
    • Healthy food choices, such as grocery stores and farmers' markets.

What are the signs or symptoms?

The main sign of this condition is having too much body fat.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed by:
  • BMI. This is a measure that describes your child's weight in relation to his or her height.
  • Waist circumference. This measures the distance around your child's waistline.
  • Skinfold thickness. Your child's health care provider may gently pinch a fold of your child's skin and measure it.
Your child may have other tests to check for underlying conditions.

How is this treated?

Treatment for this condition may include:
  • Dietary changes. This may include developing a healthy meal plan.
  • Regular physical activity. This may include activity that causes your child's heart to beat faster (aerobic exercise) or muscle-strengthening play or sports. Work with your child's health care provider to design an exercise program that works for your child.
  • Behavioral therapy that includes problem solving and stress management strategies.
  • Treating conditions that cause the obesity (underlying conditions).
  • In some cases, children over 12 years of age may be treated with medicines or surgery.

Follow these instructions at home:

Eating and drinking

  • Limit fast food, sweets, and processed snack foods.
  • Give low-fat or fat-free options, such as low-fat milk instead of whole milk.
  • Offer your child at least 5 servings of fruits or vegetables every day.
  • Eat at home more often. This gives you more control over what your child eats.
  • Set a healthy eating example for your child. This includes choosing healthy options for yourself at home or when eating out.
  • Learn to read food labels. This will help you to understand how much food is considered 1 serving.
  • Learn what a healthy serving size is. Serving sizes may be different depending on the age of your child.
  • Make healthy snacks available to your child, such as fresh fruit or low-fat yogurt.
  • Limit sugary drinks, such as soda, fruit juice, sweetened iced tea, and flavored milks.
  • Include your child in the planning and cooking of healthy meals.
  • Talk with your child's health care provider or a dietitian if you have any questions about your child's meal plan.

Physical activity

  • Encourage your child to be active for at least 60 minutes every day of the week.
  • Make exercise fun. Find activities that your child enjoys.
  • Be active as a family. Take walks together or bike around the neighborhood.
  • Talk with your child's daycare or after-school program leader about increasing physical activity.

Lifestyle

  • Limit the time your child spends in front of screens to less than 2 hours a day. Avoid having electronic devices in your child's bedroom.
  • Help your child get regular quality sleep. Ask your health care provider how much sleep your child needs.
  • Help your child find healthy ways to manage stress.

General instructions

  • Have your child keep a journal to track the food he or she eats and how much exercise he or she gets.
  • Give over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your child's health care provider.
  • Consider joining a support group. Find one that includes other families with obese children who are trying to make healthy changes. Ask your child's health care provider for suggestions.
  • Do not call your child names based on weight or tease your child about his or her weight. Discourage other family members and friends from mentioning your child's weight.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your child's health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if your child:

  • Has emotional, behavioral, or social problems.
  • Has trouble sleeping.
  • Has joint pain.
  • Has been making the recommended changes but is not losing weight.
  • Avoids eating with you, family, or friends.

Get help right away if your child:

  • Has trouble breathing.
  • Is having suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Summary

  • Obesity is the condition of having too much total body fat.
  • Being obese means that the child's weight is greater than what is considered healthy compared to other children of the same age, gender, and height.
  • Talk with your child's health care provider or a dietitian if you have any questions about your child's meal plan.
  • Have your child keep a journal to track the food he or she eats and how much exercise he or she gets.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.