Child Obesity: Is Your Child Overweight or Obese?

We've all heard the scary statistics about child obesity. Is your child at risk?

Child obesity - overweight child
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Child obesity can leave kids at risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and even depression. You may look at your kids and think, "He's strong and sturdy," or "She's still got a bit of baby fat." But that "baby fat" could have big consequences for her health for years to come

How Doctors Define Child Obesity

At regular checkups, your child's doctor should check his height and weight and calculate his body mass index, or BMI (see an online calculator that helps you check against thresholds for child obesity).

  • A child (between the ages of 2 and 18) is considered obese if his BMI is at or above the 95th percentile for their age and sex, or if his BMI is 30 or above.
  • A child is considered overweight if her BMI is at or above the 85th percentile (but below the 95th percentile).

Because kids' growth patterns are different from adults, a child's BMI can't be directly compared to an adult's. Special BMI-for-age charts help doctors know which kids are at risk. And since BMI isn't a perfect predictor of healthy weight, doctors also look at growth patterns over time. And they ask questions about your family's diet and fitness practices, such as:

If the BMI, the lifestyle questions, and/or family medical history raise a red flag, the doctor may order follow-up lab tests, such as a lipid profile (which checks the level of cholesterol in the blood).

After an Obesity Diagnosis

Hearing a childhood obesity diagnosis—or even a warning that a child might be at risk—can be devastating for a parent.

It's not easy to do this on your own, and sometimes it's not even safe. So discuss your child's needs with his doctor. She may refer you to a behavior-management or counseling program that addresses the many unique causes of obesity, or to a nutritionist who can help you with meal planning.

At home, take a three-pronged approach. Your child needs your help to

  1. Improve his diet, ideally through lifestyle changes for the whole family
  2. Increase his activity level to the recommended 60 minutes a day, perhaps through a special fitness program for kids
  3. Boost his self-esteem. Kids who are overweight often have low self-esteem, and the two conditions can combine to form a vicious cycle. So as you help your child make physical changes through diet and activity, also strive to build his emotional and psychological health.


Expert Committee Recommendations on the Assessment, Prevention, and Treatment of Child and Adolescent Overweight and Obesity. American Medical Association, January 25, 2007.

About BMI for children and teens. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 22, 2007.

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