Answering Questions About Childhood Obesity in America

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Recent scientific monitoring studies are beginning to show progress in changing the tide of the childhood obesity epidemic, but the numbers of young people in the US affected by obesity remain high. Research has shown that declines in school-based physical activity programs and increased access to and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages are among contributors of the increase in childhood obesity in the United States.

Obesity affects nearly 1 in 6 children in the United States, and since 1980, the number has almost tripled. Obesity has several harmful effects on health. It puts children at risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, respiratory problems, and other conditions. Children and adolescents who are obese are also likely to be obese as adults leading to serious health concerns. The good news is there are a number of strategies communities, states, schools, child care facilities, and parents can use to help improve diet and physical activity in order to help reduce the childhood obesity epidemic.

What Parents Can Do?

A variety of environmental factors determine whether or not the healthy choice is the easy choice for children and their parents. American society had become characterized by environments that promote increased consumption of less healthful foods and drinks and decreased physical activity. The good news is there are a number of steps you can take to make sure your child maintains health:

Is It Getting Better?

According to CDC’s August 2013 Vital Signs report, after decades of rising obesity rates among low-income preschoolers aged 2–4 years, many states are now showing small declines in childhood obesity rates. Among older children, a recent CDC survey shows that school districts nationwide are making improvements by putting into action school nutrition policies and requiring physical education. Improvements in childhood obesity rates have also been noted at the local level. For example, a study conducted in Philadelphia, Pa., and published in CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease(PCD) reported that childhood obesity has declined in Philadelphia. A waning in the consumption of sugary beverages, which contribute to childhood obesity, has also been noted by researchers, as seen in “Declines in Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Among Children in Los Angeles County, 2007 and 2011.” However, childhood obesity numbers are still too high. Although advances are being made in addressing the epidemic, researchers note that much work remains before childhood obesity rates begin to show a dramatic decline across the nation and across all groups of children.


Provided By:
Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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Page last reviewed: March 11, 2015
Page last updated: March 11, 2015