The Growing Childhood Population: Overweight and Obesity

In performing research for this blog, I was astounded by the statistics on childhood obesity.  According to the CDC, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.  In 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

Believe me, I am well aware of our growing childhood overweight and obesity problems.  I see patients on a daily basis who report weight issues began at an early age and most report having a least one parent, if not both parents who are overweight or obese.  I was at a dance recital recently and was shocked and saddened by how many children there would be considered overweight and even obese.  In our society, being overweight or obese is becoming somewhat of a norm.

Did you know that 1 of 3 children are obese by their 5th birthday?  This comes from the CDC from the 2009 Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System (PedNSS) data.  Childhood obesity is the result of eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity.  The problem is global and is steadily affecting many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings.  The goal in fighting the childhood obesity epidemic is to achieve an energy balance which can be maintained throughout the individual’s life-span.

Regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence improves strength and endurance, helps build healthy bones and  muscles, helps control weight, reduces anxiety and stress, increases  self-esteem, and may improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that young people aged 6–17 years participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.

Schools can promote physical activity through comprehensive school physical activity programs, including recess, classroom-based physical activity, intramural physical activity clubs,  interscholastic sports, and physical education.   Schools should ensure that physical education  is provided to all students in all grades and is taught by qualified teachers.

Childhood obesity can have harmful effects on the body in a variety of ways.  Obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  One study showed that 70% of obese children had at least one cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factor and 39% had two or more.  Obesity can cause increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes; breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and asthma; joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort; fatty liver disease, gallstones and gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD).  Obese children and adolescents also have a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem.

Children, adolescents and  teens need to be prompted and cued to eat better and more nutritious foods.  Schools are starting to make efforts to have healthier options for breakfast, lunch and snack time.  As parents, we need to do our part at home as well.  We need to make sure we have plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables on hand and a variety of other healthy choices.  Remember, our kids watch us and we need to lead by example with healthier lifestyles and better diet choices!

A recent article published in Parents magazine (April 2013 issue) focused specifically on how many calories kids need at certain ages.  This article caught my attention and was handy since I was planning a blog about childhood overweight and obesity issues.

Please understand, it is not necessary to count your children’s calories on a daily basis.  However, it is smart to know roughly how many calories are needed just as it is important for you to know how many calories you need.  Below is the “Calorie Needs Calculator” from the Parents magazine article:


Weight (lbs)

Daily Calories

Boy, 3



Girl, 3



Boy, 4



Girl, 4



Boy, 5



Girl, 5



Boy, 6



Girl, 6



Boy, 7



Girl, 7



Boy, 8



Girl, 8



Boy, 9



Girl, 9



Boy, 10



Girl, 10