Working Together to Reduce Childhood Obesity

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Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States. Despite recent declines in the prevalence among preschool-aged children (from 13.9% in 2003-2004 to 8.4% in 2011-2012), obesity among children is still too high. For children and adolescents aged 2-19, the prevalence of obesity has remained fairly stable—at about 17% or 12.7 million children and adolescents—for the past decade.

Childhood obesity is also more common among certain racial and ethnic groups. In 2011-2012, the prevalence among children and adolescents was higher among Hispanics (22.4%) and non-Hispanic blacks (20.2%) than among non-Hispanic whites (14.1%).

Children who are overweight or obese as preschoolers are five times as likely as children who are normal weight to be overweight or obese as adults and to suffer lifelong physical and mental health problems. They are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, and they are at higher risk of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. They are also more likely to have breathing problems like asthma and fatty liver disease. Children struggling with obesity have a higher risk of social and psychological problems, like discrimination and lower self-esteem. In addition, childhood obesity also has substantial economic costs, estimated at $3 billion a year in direct medical costs.

The long-term and life-threatening consequences of childhood obesity for the next generations of adults cannot be ignored. No single action will reverse this problem. It requires a comprehensive approach that uses policy and environmental change to transform communities into places that support and promote healthy lifestyle choices for all US residents. Environmental factors—like the cost of healthy versus unhealthy foods and a lack of safe places to play and exercise—can contribute to the obesity problem by making it harder to eat healthy or be active (

Parents, child care and early education providers, and state and local officials all have a role to play in creating healthy communities. More information about what can be done to address this problem is available at


Lisa C. McGuire, PhD
Epidemiology and Surveillance Team
Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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Page last reviewed: February 12, 2015
Page last updated: February 12, 2015