Childhood Obesity Statistics

Childhood and teenage obesity has increased by four times over the past 40 years. Statistics on childhood obesity also indicate that over 70 percent of overweight adolescents will be overweight or obese as adults.

Definitions Used for Childhood Obesity Statistics

Before we look at statistics on childhood obesity, it may be helpful to understand the terms and definitions used. For statistical purposes, being overweight is defined based on a child's body mass index (BMI). Unlike adults, there is no generally accepted definition for obesity as distinct from overweight in children and adolescents.
 
BMI is an indirect measure of a child's body fat and applies to everyone, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. The number is generated from a BMI formula using a child's height and weight (see BMI Calculator for Children).
 
To interpret the BMI number for children and adolescents under the age of 20, a same-sex, age-based growth chart is used to identify weight status from the BMI number. The percentile indicates the relative position of the child's BMI number among children of the same sex and age.
 
BMI-for-age weight status categories and the corresponding percentiles are shown in the following table.
 
Weight Status Category
Percentile Range
Underweight
Less than the 5th percentile
Healthy weight
5th percentile up to the 85th percentile
At risk of overweight
85th to less than the 95th percentile
Overweight
Equal to or greater than the 95th percentile
 
The statistics discussed below are from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), unless otherwise noted.
 
(Click Obesity Statistics for information on the statistics related to adults and obesity.)
 
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