How is obesity in children defined?

Updated: Feb 20, 2019
  • Author: Steven M Schwarz, MD, FAAP, FACN, AGAF; Chief Editor: Jatinder Bhatia, MBBS, FAAP  more...
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Answer

Operational definitions of obesity in adults are derived from statistical data that analyze the association between body mass and the risk of acute and long-term morbidity and mortality. Because acute medical complications of obesity are less common in children and adolescents than in adults, and because longitudinal data on the relation between childhood weight and adult morbidity and mortality are more difficult to interpret, no single definition of obesity in childhood and adolescence has gained universal approval.

Some investigators have used the terms overweight, obese, and morbidly obese to refer to children and adolescents whose weights exceed those expected for heights by 20%, 50%, and 80-100%, respectively. The body mass index (BMI) has not been consistently used or validated in children younger than 2 years. Because weight varies in a continuous rather than a stepwise fashion, the use of these arbitrary criteria is problematic and may be misleading. Nevertheless, children and adolescents defined as overweight or obese according to published criteria are highly likely to maintain this ponderal status as adults.


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