Childhood Obesity

The Ideal Shape






1 in 5 children in the United States are overweight.

One extra soft drink a day gives a child a 60% greater chance of becoming obese.

Childhood obesity has increased since the 1960's by 54% among children ages 6 to 11 and 39% among children 12 to 17 years of age.

Excess weight in childhood and adolescence has been found to predict overweight for adults. Children with obesity, age 10 to 13, are reported to have a 70% likelihood of obesity persisting into adult years

Continuing Epidemic

The problem of childhood obesity in the United States has grown considerably in recent years. Between 16 and 33 percent of children and adolescents are obese. Obesity is among the easiest medical conditions to recognize but the most difficult to treat. American children are getting fatter at an alarming rate, with a number of significantly overweight children more than doubling among blacks and Hispanics during 12 years and climbing 50 percent among whites (National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1986-1998). The rising prevalence of overweight and obesity is one of the most alarming public health issues in the US today. Obesity is responsible for nearly as many preventable deaths as smoking (300,000), and cost society about $100 billion a year according to the American Obesity Association.

Medical Consequences

The problem of CO (childhood obesity) extends across cultural barriers, income, education and race. According to the most current World Health Organization standards, half of all adult Americans in this country are overweight.1 The most recent survey data indicates that more than 20% of American children are overweight.2 Obesity is the most common cause of abnormal acceleration of growth in childhood, which leads to early onset of menses and abnormalities in sexual development in boys.3 Obese children are vulnerable to a number of health issues, and are more likely to grow up to become obese adults who are at greater risk of developing serious health problems, i.e., high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, respiratory disease, certain types of cancer, gout, digestive problems and arthritis.4

Psycho-Social Connection

In addition to the physical effects of obesity, there are widespread psychosocial consequences. Studies show that even young children are sensitized to obesity, and older children rank overweight children low as potential friends. More than 30 years ago, studies found that school-age children associate obesity with negative characteristics, i.e., laziness.5 A recent study, looking at early adolescents, demonstrated a significant relationship between obesity and low self esteem, as well as depression.6 Medical problems, i.e., hormone imbalances, are rare and account for fewer than 1 out of 100 cases of childhood obesity.7 Genetics plays an important role in this issue, but it is only one piece of the puzzle, as family dynamics is also a contributing factor in determining and identifying one's eating patterns and habits. Childhood obesity is a family disease and the entire family dynamic must change along with the child. It is crucial that the child, as well as the entire family, be motivated and willing to undertake the defined treatment modality to be successful.

A recent study…

…published in The Lancet medical journal targets "Liquid Candy" (sugared drinks) as a major culprit in this insulin/obesity war. Instead of drinking milk, water, or natural fruit juice, which are healthier and more nutritious, children are consuming more sweetened beverages and getting fatter. "Liquid candy," i.e., sodas, Hawaiian punch, lemonade, Kool-Aid, sweetened iced tea and other sugared fruit drinks are independent of the food children eat, how much TV or videos they watch and the amount they exercise. France Ellisle from France's Institute of Health and Medical Research, stated that there is convincing new evidence about the relationship between sugar and weight gain in children. Soft drinks are tasty and less filling than food, children gulp down hundreds of calories from sugary liquids without feeling full. One extra soft drink a day give a child a 60 percent greater chance of becoming obese, and one soft drink a day equals 15 pounds of added weight a year, new research suggests. The average teenager is getting 15 to 20 teaspoons a day of added sugar from soft drinks alone. "Consumption rates among children have doubled in the last decade," states Dr David Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Boston Children's Hospital.

Final Word

Why do people accumulate excess body fat? The answer is that they take in more food energy than they use up, or put out. Contrary to what the media would have you think calories do count! Nevertheless, that answer fails to explain why this happens. Is it Genetic? Environmental? Cultural? Behavioral? Socioeconomic? Psychological? Metabolic? All of these? Most likely, obesity has many interrelated causes.. Why an imbalance between energy intake and energy output occurs must be defined on an individual basis. Chubby cheeks are not cute. The added weight these children are carrying is no laughing matter. Childhood obesity leads to adult obesity along with chronic health problems. Children are our tomorrow and the problem of childhood obesity cannot be overlooked any longer.

      "This continuing trend in obesity is a critical public health threat in the United States…Unfortunately, the prevalence of obesity is likely to continue increasing in the years ahead. The time has come to develop a national, comprehensive plan to prevent and treat the obesity epidemic" (JAMA).





  1. Flegal KM, Carrol MD, Kucsmarski RJ, Johnson CL. Overweight and Obesity in the United States: Prevalence and Trends, 1960 -1994. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord, 1998; 22 (1): 39-47.
  2. Troiano RP, Flegal KM, Overweight Children and Adolescents: Description Epidemiology and Demographics. Pediatr, 1998; 101: 497-504
  3. Slyper AH, Childhood Obesity, Adipose Tissue Distribution, and the Pediatric Practitioner. Peitr. 1998; 102 (1): e-4e-19.
  4. Guo SS, Roche AF, Chumlea WC, Gardner JD, Siervogel RM. The Predictive Value of Childhood Body Mass Index Values for Overweight at Age 36 Years. Am J Clin Nutr. 1994;59:810-819
  5. Staffieri FR. A Study of Social Stereotype of Body Image in Children. J Perspectives in Soc Psychol. 1967; 7:101-104.
  6. Staruss RS. Childhood Obesity and Self-Esteem. Pediatr. 2000;105 (1):215-e19.
  7. Diets WH, Stern L., Is My Child Too Fat? In: Dieta WH Stern L., eds, Guide to your Child's Nutrition, New York, NY: Villard, 1999: pp. 125-135.

Helping your child lose weight and get healthy

Childhood obesity is a common problem. Your child needs to be taught to develop good eating habits, and that begins with the parents. Helping an over-weight child lose weight is difficult but not impossible. Here are some tips to help you get started.

    Be a family: Your child will never trade bad behavior for good if he/she is coerced into eating broccoli, and going jogging while the rest of the family is wolfing down potato chips in front of the boob tube. Even if just one child is overweight, success usually requires a lifestyle change by the entire family. Usually an overweight child has at least one overweight parent.

    Move: Find ways to increase family togetherness that includes physical activity. Rather than watch TV after a meal, go for a walk, play ball, or go to the park. If you have a pet, make it your child's job to take it out for exercise every day. There is something for everyone.

    Turn it off : Repeated studies have shown that discouraging sedentary behavior like watching TV and encouraging activity has been successful. In a study published in the May issue of Pediatrics, children cut their TV time from 21 hours a week to 1 hour a week when they were forced to pedal a stationary bike while watching TV.

    Write to heal: Keep a journal of what you eat, drink, do and feel and have your child do the same. One of the best ways to identify patterns of unhealthy behaviors is for you and your child is to write it down. People rarely realize how they feel and why, and how much they eat, and watch TV, until they see it in black and white.

    Reward/comfort: Do not use food to, encourage or discourage certain behaviors. Learn to sit and talk life out with your child. It will create a bond of trust and love that will outlive any piece of candy or soda. Leave healthy snacks readily available.

      FYI: Do not offer a dessert as a reward for finishing a meal. Doing this teaches your child to value sweets more than other foods.

    Togetherness: Teach your child to appreciate healthy meals by encouraging involvement in meal preparations and food shopping. Allow your child to be creative in the kitchen by allowing them to design the evening menu, snacks, etc. Emphasize the importance of a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats, oils and vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

    Be positive: Do not brow beat or berate your child. Most kids, especially adolescents, know that there is a weight problem and are, most likely, teased and harassed by their peers. Rather than trying to embarrass them into eating right, or exercising (physical activity), reward with positive affirmations or something special that you and your child have talked about. Set realistic goals for weight loss. Children need healthy, loving guidance to avoid backsliding. Please be Patient with your child and yourself.

    Get help: Find a person that is knowledgeable about childhood obesity, digestive function, healthy foods, natural supplements, etc. Learn how to read food labels. Small changes can net big weight loss~health gains. For instance, many children drink too many calories. Encourage your child to drink water in place of liquid candy, reducing those calories will have a significant impact on your child's health and behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if my child is overweight?

Your child is overweight if he/she is heavier than 85% of other children who are the same age and height. If your child has bigger bones, he/she may weigh more because of that, not because of too much fat.

Can appetite suppressants help my child lose weight?

No diet drug (herbs and/ or pharmaceuticals) is safe for children.

Could my child's weight problem be caused by a hormone imbalance?

Most overweight children do not have a hormone imbalance. Children with a hormone imbalance grow slower than other children. They often have other symptoms, If you feel that hormones are the root cause check with your primary care provider for appropriate tests.

If my child is heavy now, will he/she always have a weight problem?

Not all heavy children have weight problems as adults. However, as children get older, their risk of staying overweight increases. The risk is even higher if one or both parents are overweight. It is important to catch weight problems early.

Should I put my child on a strict diet?

No, the child needs to grow vertically but not horizontally. Do not put him/her on a strict diet. Maintain a healthy food pyramid of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and oils vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. This is important for a balanced dietary lifestyle. Reduce the servings of fatty foods. Remove empty calories from junk foods like sweets, fatty snack foods and liquid candy. Improvise to give only healthy snacks. Do not eliminate sweets all at once. This type of deprivation will surely cause binge eating and major attitude problems. Limit the amount to be consumed over the week. You know your child, work with his/her strengths and weaknesses. Slowly replace refined carbohydrates (junk food) with carob, dried fruits, etc.

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