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Childhood Obesity Statistics

Jennifer L. Betts
Boy Holding French Fries Packet

Childhood obesity is an epidemic in the United States. With the body mass index climbing, the likelihood of juvenile diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease is increasing, and the numbers show it will only get worse in the future.

Childhood Obesity in the US

Childhood obesity is a huge problem in America. The State of Obesity noted that on a whole, 18.5 percent of American children were obese in 2017. This varied among age groups, race, and states.

Young Children

The obesity rate seems to be best for the youngest Americans, those under the age of 5. The State of Obesity noted only 13.9 percent of kids in that age group were obese. But what does it really mean to be obese? It isn't as extreme as you think. Obese is the label given to children with a body mass index (BMI) that exceeds the 95th percentile. To give you an example, a 2-year-old boy that is under 3 feet and weighs 32 pounds is obese. That really doesn't seem like a lot.

School-Age Children

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 kids from ages 6 to 19 were obese in 2016. That means in a classroom of 30 students, you can expect at least six children to be in the obese category, and these numbers are rising.


It isn't just age that can affect the childhood obesity statistics; race plays a part as well. The CDC found American children of Hispanic and Black families had higher obesity rates than those of non-Hispanic, white children. Hispanics had the highest numbers at 25.8 percent, but Black children were not far behind at 22 percent. While genetics can lead to a predisposition for obesity among these ethnicities, environmental factors like poverty play a role. For example, low-income households might not have access to fresh foods. Additionally, depending on living conditions, getting exercise can be difficult in certain neighborhoods.

By State

The rate of childhood obesity is an epidemic that affects all states. However, some are worse than others. The states with the highest childhood obesity rates were Tennessee with 37.7 percent, North Dakota with 37.1 percent, and Mississippi with 37 percent. Utah had the lowest rate at 19.2 percent, but that is still nearly one in five children. According to pediatrician Dr. Shari Barkin, the increase of obesity is due to high-calorie, low-density foods and a stationary lifestyle. Since several of the states with the highest rates are in the South, southern cooking could be seen as a contributor given current inactive lifestyles.

It's Not Just America

While obesity is a huge problem in America, it isn't just an American problem. It is a problem for developing countries as well. The World Health Organization (WHO) noted over 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight in 2016. That is approximately the population of Argentina. Most of these children come from lower-income families in urban areas according to WHO. These are generally families without access to guidance for healthy eating habits or programs that promote a healthy weight. Additionally, many have learned eating habits from parents who are also overweight.

Future Statistics

The future of this epidemic does not look bright. While statisticians don't predict childhood obesity individually, there is overwhelming evidence more than half of all Americans, both children and adults alike, could be obese by 2030. Even with the implementation of healthier eating programs, the current American diet, sedentary lifestyle, and the number of obese children will lead to obese adults in the coming future. Additionally, it isn't just America. Given the body mass index has increased globally as much as 50 percent since 1980, researchers do not see this trend slowing any time soon. The OECD noted one in six children worldwide are currently obese, and those numbers are expected to keep climbing through the year 2030.

Healthy Eating Programs Can Help

It has been proven that healthy eating programs like Women, Child and Infants (WIC) can help to improve the obesity rates. For instance, from 2010 to 2014, there was a decrease of 1.4 percent in obesity in children ages 2 to 4 enrolled in the WIC program. This shows access to healthy foods and guidance for eating recommendations can improve the health of children. They can take the strategies they learn in childhood into adulthood.

Growing Children

Childhood obesity is a world-wide problem. The growing waistline of children is not only leading to early disease but also death. This trend isn't seen as ebbing any time soon, either, although some programs are in place. Researchers suggest a major overhaul of our eating habits and exercise might be the only cure.

Childhood Obesity Statistics