When you shop through links on our site, we may receive compensation. This educational content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

30 Child Obesity Statistics & Facts: The Shocking Truth

Discover alarming insights into childhood obesity, its prevalence, and its impact on youth health.

Child obesity is a concerning reality in the United States, with a staggering 19 percent of children affected.

Childhood obesity can lead to a myriad of health risks, including heart disease, type two diabetes, and depression. Our carefully researched guide delves into 30 essential child obesity statistics and facts to educate readers about obesity rates, risk factors, and the related health consequences.

Our goal is to arm you with knowledge about this health crisis, helping you understand and implement effective prevention strategies.

Key Facts About Childhood Obesity

Here are five crucial facts about childhood obesity. For a deeper understanding of each point, we have expanded on them, plus 25 other facts, further in the article.

  1. There are about 14 million obese children and adolescents in the U.S.
  2. There has been a 60 percent increase in childhood obesity worldwide since 1990.
  3. Diet and not enough exercise are two of the most significant risk factors for childhood obesity.
  4. Childhood obesity can lead to high blood pressure and cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease.
  5. Children who are obese are more likely to be obese in adulthood.

30 Child Obesity Statistics and Facts

Below are 30 eye-opening facts about childhood obesity. We’ve broken it into four categories so you can learn in-depth information about childhood obesity in various countries, statistics over time, risk factors, and health consequences.

Childhood Obesity Rates by Country

Childhood obesity is a pressing national and worldwide matter. We’ve investigated its prevalence in the U.S. and other countries around the world.

  1. Childhood obesity in the US: About 19 percent of children in the U.S. are affected by obesity (1). This totals about 14.7 million children and adolescents between ages two and 19. Obesity has the highest prevalence among Hispanic children and the lowest prevalence among Asian children.
  2. Childhood obesity in the United Kingdom: The U.K. has a similar concern about childhood obesity, with almost 20 percent of children leaving primary school obese (2). Less than 33 percent of children meet the recommended amount of daily exercise.
  3. Childhood obesity in Canada: A 2015 study found that about 14 percent of children and adolescents in Canada were obese (3). The most likely to be obese were boys, especially those between 12 and 17.
  4. Childhood obesity in Mexico: The rate of childhood obesity in school-age children in Mexico was recently reported at 37.3 percent (4).
  5. Childhood obesity in Sweden: Childhood obesity rates are predicted to be around seven percent in Sweden (5). There is a larger movement towards healthy eating and nutritional education in Sweden.
  6. Childhood obesity in China: China has the highest number of overweight and obese children (6). In 2015, there were 39 million obese children over the age of seven. By 2030, this is predicted to reach 58 million. In percentages, as of 2022, this amounted to 29.4 percent of children.
  7. Childhood obesity in South Africa: About 13 percent of children in South Africa are obese (7). If it continues at the current rate, this will amount to about 3.91 million children by 2025.
  8. Childhood obesity in Australia: Twenty-five percent of children in Australia are affected by obesity (8). This has not increased since 2007.

Childhood Obesity Rates Over Time

Explore the trends and changes in childhood obesity rates over time, highlighting a concerning global shift since governing bodies began recording data.

  1. There has been a 60 percent increase since 1990: Childhood obesity is an epidemic that is on the rise. It’s often referred to as a 21st-century problem. Since 1990, there has been a 60 percent increase in childhood obesity worldwide (9).
  2. Obesity rates have tripled in America: In the U.S., childhood obesity rates have tripled in the last 30 years. America has one of the highest obesity rates in the world.
  3. Obesity rates since the 1970s: In the U.S., around five percent of children between two and 19 were obese. But by 2008, almost 17 percent of children in the U.S. were considered obese.
  4. Childhood obesity rates have slowed in the US: Despite a sharp increase in the late 20th century, childhood obesity rates have leveled off a bit since 2003 (10). It’s still a pressing issue, but it’s developing at a slower rate than before.
  5. Ethnic disparities: Since 2002, obesity rates among white children have been quite steady. However, obesity rates among Black and Hispanic children have continued to rise.
  6. Obesity in boys and girls over time: Between 1971 and 1974, boys had a 5.3 percent obesity rate, and girls were at 5.1 (11). By 2000, boys had a 14 percent rate, and girls were at 13.8. As of 2018, boys had a 20.5 percent obesity rate, and girls had an 18 percent obesity rate.
  7. Obesity in age groups over time: Between 1971 and 1974, there was a five percent obesity rate in children ages two to five. There was a four percent obesity rate in kids between six and 11 and a 6.1 percent rate in children between 12 and 19. As of 2018, there was a 13.4 percent obesity rate in children 2-5, 20.3 percent in children 6-11, and 21.2 percent in children 12-19.

Obesity Causes and Risk Factors

Obesity is not random. There are many causes and risk factors that can increase a child’s chance of suffering from obesity or being overweight. Below are eight factors that contribute to childhood obesity.

  1. The mother’s pregnancy: A mother’s health during the pregnancy can impact childhood obesity risk (12). For example, insulin resistance can cause excessive fat cell growth. This directly impacts the infant’s weight gain in the first 12 months. In fact, being born to a mother with gestational or type two diabetes with excess weight is the highest risk factor for childhood obesity.
  2. Diet and calories: Diet is one of the most significant causes of childhood obesity (13). When a child regularly eats fast foods, sweet treats, and processed snacks, this can quickly lead to weight gain. Sugary drinks, including soda, are also a massive factor in weight gain.
  3. Lack of exercise: Exercise is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight. Kids who don’t get enough exercise are more likely to become overweight or obese.
  4. Genetics: Genetics also play a role in whether or not a child is at risk for obesity. Studies have found that BMI is up to 40 percent heritable (14). However, this data must also be joined with environmental and behavioral factors. Therefore, genetics account for less than five percent of childhood obesity cases.
  5. Higher birth weight: A study found that higher birth weights were consistent with childhood obesity after the age of two (15). In fact, of 46 studies on rapid weight gain during the first two years, 45 found a link between higher birth weight and children becoming overweight later in childhood.
  6. Socioeconomic adversity: One of the most significant risk factors for childhood obesity is having a low socioeconomic status (16). This is also linked to many other health conditions, including cancer and diabetes. People of low socioeconomic status have fewer opportunities to maintain physical exercise, make healthy lifestyle choices, or access education that might teach critical thinking.
  7. Family dysfunction: Children who don’t receive the ideal social, psychological, and emotional nurture are at higher risk of developing childhood obesity, as well as mental health problems and addiction. Family dysfunction also includes physical or sexual abuse, parental violence, and parental imprisonment.
  8. Cultural factors: Many countries, including America, have a very prominent fast food and snacking culture (17). Many TV and billboard advertisements entice parents and children to choose easy meal options, which often include high calories and big portions.

More Causes To Note

There are many more causes and risk factors associated with childhood obesity. Being aware of these can help educate parents and caregivers about this pressing issue and make more educated choices. These additional risk factors include lack of playgrounds and space for exercise, medications, medical conditions (such as hypothyroidism), geography (for example, obesity rates vary by state), birth via C-section, excessive antibiotic exposure in early years, and basal metabolic rate.

Health Consequences of Childhood Obesity

If your child is subject to the many risk factors for childhood obesity, it doesn’t mean you need to submit to it. There are many ways to combat being overweight or obese.

One motivation is to learn the health risks of childhood obesity. Below are seven ways childhood obesity can affect a child long into adulthood.

  1. Heart disease risks: Obesity increases the risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both risk factors for heart disease (18).
  2. Type 2 diabetes: Childhood obesity makes a child four times more likely to develop glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes (19). Over 85 percent of kids with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese when they are diagnosed.
  3. Mental health impact: Depression is found to be a cause and a consequence of childhood obesity. A clinical study found that obese adolescents had a higher prevalence of anxiety compared to non-obese adolescents.
  4. Liver failure risk: People with obesity store more fat in the liver, which can lead to liver damage, cirrhosis, or liver failure (20).
  5. Obesity likely to continue into adulthood: Childhood obesity increases the risk of obesity in adulthood, perpetuating the health crisis over their lifetime. In fact, more than 50 percent of obese children over the age of six become obese as adults (21). Up to 80 percent of obese teenagers over the age of 12 become obese as adults.
  6. Immunological consequences: Almost all organs are affected in a child who is obese (22). This can affect a child’s immune system, preventing them from fighting off diseases as effectively as other children.
  7. Breathing difficulties: One more noteworthy health consequence of childhood obesity is breathing issues, including asthma and sleep apnea. Overweight children have a higher chance of developing asthma, typically through inflammatory stress, more narrow airways, and obstructive sleep apnea.


How Do You Know If Your Child is Obese?

Childhood obesity in America is defined by an excess of body fat. The CDC defines obesity as being at or above the 95th percentile of BMI (Body Mass Index) for age (23). A healthy weight is between the fifth and 85th percentile.

Your child should have their BMI checked at all routine pediatric check-ups. They should let you know if your child is at a healthy weight, underweight, or overweight. You can use this BMI calculator to check your child’s BMI.

The health care provider should also consider other health conditions, family history of obesity, activity and dietary habits, sleeping patterns, and other mental health conditions before making an official diagnosis. They may also perform physical exams and blood tests to rule out hormone imbalances or thyroid functions. These blood tests can also check cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Childhood Obesity?

There are many things parents and caregivers can do to prevent childhood obesity. This includes:

  • Healthy eating: Encourage your child to enjoy healthy foods. Limit junk food intake, make healthy and filling meals, and contact your child’s school to encourage the same.
  • Activity and movement: Encourage your child to do any kind of physical exercise for at least one hour per day. This is a great opportunity to try new games or sports, like playing tag or dance classes.
  • Reduce sedentary activity: Prevent too much sedentary activity, such as watching TV or playing computer games.
  • Model healthy eating: Parents and caregivers can model healthy eating habits. If your child sees you eating vegetable soup and wholemeal bread, they are more likely to replicate this. But if they see you drinking soda and snacking on candy, they will want to do the same.
  • Consistent sleeping patterns: Good sleep can prevent obesity. Ensure your preschool children are sleeping at least 11 hours per night. Children between six and 12 should sleep at least nine hours per night. And children between 13 and 18 need at least eight hours of sleep per night. Introduce a sleep schedule, good sleep hygiene, and a nighttime routine.
  • Don’t obsess over your child’s weight: Although obesity is a pressing issue, don’t obsess over your child’s weight. Instead, focus on healthy eating and getting plenty of exercise.
  • Don’t use food as a reward: Don’t use food (especially treats) as a reward. And don’t keep food away from your child as punishment. This gives them the view that food is something special, and they might learn to crave more of it or sneak more “off-limit” snacks into their diet, leading to unhealthy eating.

Feedback: Was This Article Helpful?
Thank You For Your Feedback!
Thank You For Your Feedback!
What Did You Like?
What Went Wrong?
Headshot of Beth McCallum

About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a Scottish freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism and English literature. She is a mum to a young boy, and believes that it truly takes a village. When she’s not parenting, writing about parenting, or working, she can be found reading, working on her novel, taking photos, playing board games or wandering through the countryside with her family.