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About obesity

A child whose weight falls at or above the 85th percentile on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth chart is considered overweight. A child whose weight is at the 95th percentile or above is obese.

What causes obesity?

Energy imbalance is a key driver of obesity. Kids store excessive fat when they take in more calories than they burn. Increased sugar, sweetened drinks, large portions, frequent snacks, more meals outside the home and fewer fruits and vegetables all add up to an unhealthy calorie count. At the same time, sedentary entertainment (such as TV, computers and gaming systems), decreased physical education in school, and a physical environment that could limit outdoor play are all reasons that today’s kids don’t always get as much exercise as they should.

How often does obesity occur?

The childhood obesity rate has grown significantly in recent decades. More than one-third of children nationally are overweight or obese.

When does obesity develop?

Obesity can start as young as age five, and it’s often diagnosed around age 10.

What are the symptoms of obesity?

Body mass index (BMI) is the primary indicator of obesity. Several recent studies showed that most parents fail to realize when their child is obese, so it’s important to know whether your child is at a healthy weight. Ideally, your child’s weight will fall between the 5th and 85th percentiles on the CDC’s growth chart. A child who measures at or above the 85th percentile is considered overweight; a child who is at or above the 95th percentile is considered obese.

Obesity can lead to a number of health consequences and related symptoms, including:

Who is at risk of developing this condition?

Children with a family history of obesity are more likely to become obese themselves.

Why is obesity a concern?

In addition to numerous risks to a child’s physical health and well-being, obesity can also bring the risk of social stigmatism and teasing from peers. That can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, binge-eating, poor academic performance and suicide.

Sixty percent of obese adolescents are going to be obese adults. As they grow older, that extra weight could bring additional risks, such as heart disease, cancer (breast, colon and endometrial cancer), osteoarthritis and infertility.

How is obesity diagnosed/evaluated?

Your child’s doctor will use the growth chart to determine if your child is at a healthy weight. Kids who are obese need to be screened for related health conditions, though it’s possible for a child to be overweight or obese and not have any health problems. In those cases, your child’s primary care physician can help provide and manage an exercise and diet plan. If your child has other health conditions in addition to a weight issue, then it’s best to see a pediatric obesity specialist as well as any other specialists your child may need.

What is the treatment for obesity?

It’s important not to restrict your child’s diet too much because low-fat diets can harm his or her growth. Your child’s doctor will prescribe a diet that is well-balanced and appropriate for your child’s daily needs and growth. Physical activity is also a key component to managing your child’s weight. Get more weight management tips for families and use this form to log your child’s daily diet.

If your child is still unable to lose weight and has significant health concerns as a result, your child’s doctor may recommend bariatric (weight loss) surgery, which reduces the amount of food your child can comfortably eat. However, surgery is a last resort and is not a good fit for everyone. Children must have reached puberty and grown to their final height to qualify.

What happens after treatment?

Children who are overweight need to be monitored closely for health and weight gain by their primary care physician. Some patients might have ongoing health problems, in which case they may be referred to Children’s Wisconsin’s medical obesity program and bariatric program.

If your child has tried a doctor-prescribed weight management program for six months and still isn’t having success, he or she might benefit from bariatric surgery.

When should you contact a physician?

Talk to your pediatrician if you’re concerned about your child’s weight. If you’ve already worked with your pediatrician for three to six months and your child is still not losing a sufficient amount of weight, your child could benefit from a more specialized program at Children’s Wisconsin.

What is the long-term outlook for obesity?

If untreated, obese children usually grow into obese adults with increased risk for cancer, diabetes and other serious conditions. But children who are able to reach a healthier weight can go on to live normal and healthy lives, though they may always need to monitor their weight closely.

How do I live with obesity?

Seeking help is the first step. Taking care of your body is an investment in your future.

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