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Understanding Childhood Obesity

What is Obesity?

Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. Body mass index (BMI) is a widely used screening tool for measuring obesity. BMI is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of a person’s height in meters. Scientists have found that BMI is moderately related to direct measures of body fatness. Measuring height and weight is easier and less expensive than other methods for assessing weight status.

The CDC recommends that health professionals use BMI percentile when measuring the bodies of children and young people aged 2 to 20 years. BMI percentile takes into account that young people are still growing and are growing at different rates depending on their age and sex. Health professionals use growth charts to determine whether a young person’s weight falls into a healthy range for his or her height, age, and sex.

Causes of Obesity

Consuming more energy from foods and beverages than the body uses for healthy functioning, growth, and physical activity can lead to extra weight gain over time. Energy imbalance is a key factor behind the high rates of obesity seen in the United States and globally. However, there are many different factors that cause obesity including genetics, metabolism (how your body changes food and oxygen into energy it can use), sleep cycles, eating, and physical activity behaviors.

Where We’re at Now

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. Data from 2015-2016 shows that nearly 1 in 5 school-age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States is obese.


Balance is key in helping your child maintain a healthy weight. Balance the calories your child eats and drinks with the calories used through physical activity and normal growth. Encourage healthy eating habits such as plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean fish, and chicken. As a parent or guardian, you can significantly affect what your child consumes daily.

Set an example of mindful eating to start them with in life with healthy food habits. Help your kids understand the benefits of being physically active. Hobbies or sports that involve moderate physical activity are great to keep them active at least sixty minutes a day. Reduce sedentary time. Although quiet time for reading and homework is fine, limit “screen time” (TV, video games, Internet) to no more than two hours a day. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend TV for kids age 2 or younger.

If you need further guidance on how to get your child to eat and exercise properly, visit an American Family Care near you

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