The Facts About Childhood Obesity

Everyone knows that childhood obesity is increasing, right?

Understanding the actual statistics behind the number of overweight children and other important childhood obesity statistics may help you with your overweight child. It can also help your child who is at a healthy weight stay at a healthy weight.

A little boy holding a donut

NelliSyr / Getty Images

The Child Obesity Epidemic

It is clear from reviewing childhood obesity statistics that childhood obesity has been increasing the last 20 to 30 years:

  • Only 5% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 were considered overweight in a 1971-1974 survey, while 13.9% of children at this age were overweight in a more recent 2003-2004 survey
  • Only 4% of children between the ages of 6 and 11 were considered overweight in a 1971-1974 survey, while 18.8% of children at this age were overweight in a more recent 2003-2004 survey
  • Only 6.1% of children between the ages of 12 and 19 were considered overweight in a 1971-1974 survey, while 17.4% of children at this age were overweight in a more recent 2003-2004 survey

Fortunately, childhood obesity rates have been holding steady since 2003, with no increases in the rate of obesity.

Body Mass Index

How do you know if your child is overweight?

Using their height, weight, and age, you figure out their body mass index (BMI) using a:

  • BMI Calculator
  • BMI Formula

And then plot their body mass index on a BMI growth chart.

BMI is a dated, flawed measure. It does not take into account factors such as body composition, ethnicity, sex, race, and age. 
Even though it is a biased measure, BMI is still widely used in the medical community because it’s an inexpensive and quick way to analyze a person’s potential health status and outcomes.

According to the CDC, the current BMI definitions are:

  • Underweight: less than the 5th percentile
  • Healthy weight: 5th to less than the 85th percentile
  • Overweight: 85th to less than 95th percentile
  • Obese: Equal to or greater than the 95th percentile

This is a very recent change, as kids in the 85th to less than 95th percentile used to be called at risk for becoming overweight, and those at or above the 95th percentile were defined as being overweight.

Obesity Facts and Statistics

Other important facts about childhood obesity that can be helpful include that:

  • 3,500 calories is equal to a pound of fat, for example, whether your child eats an extra 3,500 calories each month to gain an extra pound or burns an extra 3,500 calories to lose a pound
  • Participating in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on most days can help your child maintain a healthy weight
  • More than one or two hours of screen time (TV, computers, video games) each day is a risk factor for childhood obesity
  • Overweight teenagers have a 70% chance of becoming overweight adults
  • Less than one-third of adults are at a healthy weight

If your child is overweight, you should likely work with your pediatrician and/or a registered dietitian to help him lose weight.

Adult Obesity Statistics

As with the child obesity epidemic, there has also been a great rise in adult obesity. Health experts now report that two-thirds of adults are now overweight, with a BMI at or above 25. In addition, one-third of adults have a BMI at or above 30 and are considered to be obese.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • BMI for Children and Teens.
  • CDC. Childhood Overweight. Overweight Prevalence.
  • High body mass index for age among US children and adolescents, 2003-2006. Ogden CL - JAMA - 28-MAY-2008; 299(20): 2401-5.
  • NIH. Weight-control Information Network. Statistics Related to Overweight and Obesity.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
 Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.