Obesity Childhood Diagnosis

Childhood obesity statistics indicate a steady increase in childhood obesity rates since 1980. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2010), 6.5 percent of children aged 6 to 11 were obese in 1980. By 2008, the obesity rate for this group rose to 19.6 percent, meaning almost one out of every five American children is obese.

Challenges to Diagnosing Obesity in Children

Diagnosing obesity in children is more complex than simply determining if a child is “fat.” Both children and parents may downplay the child’s obesity, blaming the condition on “baby fat,” or suggesting that the child has a glandular problem (in reality, childhood obesity attributable to hormonal problems is rare). Medical professionals must often work to convince parents that their children may benefit from childhood obesity programs.

Diagnosing childhood obesity is also complicated by the fact that children’s bodies are growing and changing. It’s not unusual, for instance, for a child to gain weight just prior to a growth spurt. The most effective method of diagnosing obesity in children is measuring body fat percentage. However, since most medical offices lack the specialized diagnostic tools needed to determine body fat percentages, doctors may employ other diagnostic tools.

Childhood Obesity Statistics

The following table outlines the increase in childhood obesity statistics for different age ranges, according to the results of the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2007 to 2008):

Age Range Obesity Rate from 1976 to 1980 Obesity Rates by 2008
2 to 5 6 to 11 12 to 19
5 percent 6.5 percent 5 percent
10.4 percent 19.6 percent 18.1 percent

Diagnosing Obesity in Children with Height/Weight Charts

The CDC provides growth charts based childhood obesity statistics. These CDC charts are based on the height and weight of thousands of different children, and offer a way to quickly compare a child’s weight to her peers. A child whose weight is 20 percent or higher than the growth chart norm may have weight problems.

Body mass index, or BMI, is also used to diagnose obesity in children. Although BMI may facilitate an adult obesity diagnosis, using this figure to diagnose obesity in children may yield more ambiguous results: A child’s BMI can change quickly due to normal growth and development.

The CDC suggests that a child whose BMI score falls in the 85th percentile is overweight, and any child in the 95th percentile is obese (the 95th percentile would correspond to an adult BMI of 30 or more, which is considered obese). Children in both categories would benefit from childhood obesity programs.

When diagnosing obesity in children, doctors don’t rely entirely on BMI age charts. Individual factors may skew the BMI result. A child may be more muscular than average for instance, which yields a higher BMI score. Larger than normal body frames also affect BMI scores, as do a child’s individual growth patterns and growth spurts. A child’s eating habits and activity levels are also considered.

Additional Childhood Obesity Tests

Childhood obesity can cause serious health complications. Diagnosing obesity in children may include tests to check for the presence of type 2 diabetes or other obesity-related health problems. Possible diagnostic tests include blood tests, cholesterol tests and fasting glucose tests.

While hormonal causes of childhood obesity are rare, doctors may order blood tests to measure hormone levels if a child’s symptoms or history suggest hormonal imbalances.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Childhood overweight and obesity. Retrieved April 14, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/index.html.

Ferry, R. (2007). Obesity in children. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/obesity_in_children/article_em.htm.

Mayo Clinic. (2010). Childhood obesity: Tests and diagnosis. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/obesity/DS00314.

Scott, O. (2009). Obesity in children. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/Obesity-in-Children.htm.

University of California San Francisco Children’s Hospital. (2010). Obesity diagnosis. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from http://www.ucsfchildrenshospital.org/conditions/obesity/diagnosis.html.