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Defining overweight and obesity in children

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Description

Obesity means weighing more than what is healthy for a given height. Obesity is a serious, chronic disease. It can lead to other health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

Obesity is becoming much more common in childhood. Most often, it begins between the ages of 5 and 6 years and in adolescence.

Child health experts recommend that children be screened for obesity at age 2 years. If needed, they should be referred to weight management programs.

Measuring Body Fat

Your child's mass index (BMI) is calculated using height and weight. A health care provider can use BMI to estimate how much body fat your child has.

Measuring body fat and diagnosing obesity in children is different than measuring these in adults. In children:

A BMI level that says a child has obesity at one age may be normal for a child at a different age. To determine if a child is overweight or has obesity, experts compare BMI levels of children at the same age to each other. They use a special chart to decide whether a child's weight is healthy or not.

References

Gahagan S. Overweight and obesity. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 60.

O'Connor EA, Evans CV, Burda BU, Walsh ES, Eder M, Lozano P. Screening for obesity and intervention for weight management in children and adolescents: evidence report and systematic review for the US Preventive Services Task Force. JAMA. 2017;317(23):2427-2444. PMID: 28632873 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28632873/.

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Review Date: 7/22/2020  

Reviewed By: Charles I. Schwartz MD, FAAP, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, General Pediatrician at PennCare for Kids, Phoenixville, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 05/23/2022.

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