Overweight Teens: The Growing Problem of Obesity Among Children & Teens

Over the past 20 years, clinical obesity among children and adolescents (defined as 95+ percentile body mass index on a growth chart) has skyrocketed from 6% to 15%. This makes overweight teens and teen obesity the most common chronic illness in pediatrics. To provide a sense of the magnitude of the opportunity, the prevalence of eating disorders is only 0.3%.

Although pediatric and adolescent obesity is most common in lower socio-economic groups, it is prevalent at all income levels, including in upper-income families. In 1995, 2.9% of households in the top 5% of income had obese children or adolescents. The number has certainly risen over the past 8 years.

The cause of this epidemic is entirely behavioral: high-calorie diets and insufficient exercise.

The direct effects of pediatric and adolescent obesity are clear and well established:

The percentage of hospital discharges for pediatric and adolescent obesity-related diseases has doubled over the past 20 years. The annual cost of hospital care for these young people has more than tripled to over $150 million. In comparison, the number of deaths annually in the United States directly attributed to adult obesity is estimated at 280,000, and total annual costs attributable to obesity-related disease approach $100 billion.
While pediatric and adolescent obesity exists in all parts of the country, researchers and pediatricians report it is most prevalent in Southern states, as well as in Texas and California.

For information about the economic toll that obesity takes on families, click here.

Pediatric and adolescent obesity is not only an issue in the U.S., but 37% of Canadian children are overweight and 19% are obese. Approximately 20% of Australian children and adolescents are currently overweight or obese. About half of European adults will be obese by 2030, due to increasing obesity among children and adolescents. In Taiwan, 67% of female college students are overweight or obese. Even in coastal Chinese cities, one in every ten children is considered obese.

Although obesity is equally prevalent for girls and boys, families are more likely to seek a teen weight loss treatment for girls than boys.

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