print   Print full article

About 17 percent of children and adolescents in the United States are overweight. This serious health problem extends from preschoolers to teens. Problems associated with overweight and obesity include Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, social and psychological problems, high cholesterol, and elevated blood pressure. Excess weight can also interfere with proper growth of leg and hip bones, creating both immediate and lifelong problems. Children who continue to be overweight into adulthood and overweight children who become obese as adults are at greater risk for other serious health problems as well, including heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.

At least once a year, a health care provider should assess the teen’s weight. This recommendation comes from a federally convened “expert committee” that represents 15 national health care organizations. The teen’s height, weight, age, and gender are considered in determining the teen’s desirable body mass index (BMI).

  • Overweight: An overweight youth (one whose BMI is between the 85th percentile and the 94th percentile) faces additional health risks.
  • Obese: An obese youth (at or above the 95th percentile or a BMI of greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2, whichever is lower) faces even more serious health risks.

At each well visit, the following should be discussed: the teen’s dietary patterns, levels of physical activity, and sedentary behaviors. The family’s history of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure are important considerations as are a number of other physical measurements the health care provider can take. The goal is to prevent and address the problems of overweight and obesity through identification and early interventions, such as diet and exercise to achieve a healthy weight and BMI.

The health care provider will discuss the health risks and the changes the teen and family should make. If the teen is overweigt or obese, lab tests for glucose to identify Type 2 diabetes and cholesterol to identify lipid abnormalities may be measured and used to monitor the effectiveness of lifestyle changes in reversing these conditions.  

Children’s body mass calculations need to be related to their growth charts. A visit to a health care provider will provide you with the most reliable information, but the calculator at the following web site helps you see if your teen is at risk of being overweight: This CDC website uses slightly different terminology than used above.


American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Nutrition. Prevention of pediatric overweight and obesity (policy statement). 2 Aug 2003 (reaffirmed 1 Feb 2007). Pediatrics 112(2):424-430. Available on the Internet at Accessed 23 Jul 2004 and 7 Jan 2008.

Barlow SE and the Expert Committee. Expert Committee recommendations regarding the prevention, assessment, and treatment of child and adolescent overweight and obesity: summary report. Dec 2007 (suppl). Pediatrics 120:S164-S192. Available on the Internet at http://pediatrics/ Accessed 10 Jan 2008.

Krebs NF, et al. Assessment of child and adolescent overweight and obesity. Dec 2007. Pediatrics 120:S193-228. Available on the Internet at Accessed 28 Jan 2008.

The Obesity Society. Childhood overweight. Available on the Internet at through Accessed 7 Jan 2008.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BMI calculator for child and teen. Reviewed 30 Jul 2007, updated 8 Jan 2008. Available on the Internet at through Accessed 8 Jan 2008.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood overweight. Last reviewed 18 Apr 2007. Available on the Internet at through Accessed 8 Jan 2008.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight and obesity: frequently asked questions. Available on the Internet at through Accessed 8 Jan 2008.