U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Overweight and Obesity

Body mass index (BMI) is the ratio of weight to height, which is used to define overweight and obesity. In children, BMI is used in conjunction with age and sex, since both of these factors affect body composition. Children who fall between the 85th and 94th percentile of BMI-for-age are considered overweight, while children who are in the 95th percentile or above are considered obese. In 2007, 15.3 percent of children aged 10–17 years were overweight and 16.4 percent were obese, based on parent-reported height and weight. Obesity is a serious health concern for children—obese children are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes. Obese children are also at increased risk of obesity in adulthood, which is associated with a host of serious health consequences.1

Overweight and obesity among children varies by a number of factors. Non-Hispanic White children experience obesity at almost half the rate of non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic children. In 2007, 12.9 percent of non-Hispanic White children aged 10–17 years were obese, compared to 23.4 percent of Hispanic children and 23.8 percent of non-Hispanic Black children. Rates of overweight were more comparable among the three groups, between 14 and 18 percent.

Low family income is also strongly associated with overweight and obesity. In 2007, 27.2 percent of children living with household incomes below 100 percent of the Federal poverty level ($20,650 for a family of four in 2007) were obese, compared to only 9.8 percent of children living in households with incomes of 400 percent or more of the Federal poverty level. The pattern was similar, though not as dramatic, for overweight: 17.6 percent of children living in households with incomes below 100 percent of poverty were overweight, compared to 12.3 percent of children living in households with incomes of 400 percent of poverty or above.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood overweight and obesity. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/index.html; accessed February 2010.

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