The silver bell of a stethoscope, red and blue tops of testing tubes, and the words "Childhood Obesity" against a dark background

Obesity is a complex health issue that affects a staggering percentage of US children and teens. Hovering around 5% in 1963 to 1965, rates of obesity had more than tripled to 19% by 2017 to 2019. Early data suggest childhood obesity rates continued climbing during the pandemic. If these trends continue, 57% of children currently ages 2 to 19 will have obesity as adults in 2050.

In a nutshell, this puts more than half of children now alive in the US at greater risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, and the other health complications of obesity. Stress, depression, and poor self-esteem are often linked to stigma surrounding obesity. For these reasons and more, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated clinical practice guidelines for evaluating and treating children and teens with obesity.

A complex interplay contributes to childhood obesity

Obesity has long been stigmatized as simply a problem of personal choice: if people just ate less and exercised more, they would not be obese, experts once believed. But the medical evidence is far more complicated than that. Genetic, physiologic, socioeconomic, and environmental factors contribute to obesity in children.

Work with your child’s doctor on a plan for better health

The new guidelines recommend that your doctor should:

What if the comprehensive program called IHBLT is not available?

When a comprehensive program is not available, the new guidelines recommend that pediatricians:

What can families do together?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests four actions families can take:

About the Author

photo of Claire McCarthy, MD

Claire McCarthy, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Claire McCarthy, MD, is a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. In addition to being a senior faculty editor for Harvard Health Publishing, Dr. McCarthy … See Full Bio View all posts by Claire McCarthy, MD

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