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Facts About Childhood Obesity

1-out-of-3-kids-overweightApproximately 12.5 million U.S. youth are obese, and about 11 million more are overweight. This means nearly one in three children and adolescents in this country are obese or overweight – a crisis by any measure.

Childhood obesity is a serious, growing epidemic, cutting across all categories of race, ethnicity, family income and locale.  Alarmingly, the obesity problem is starting at an early age, with researchers estimating that 21.2 percent of children only ages 2 to 5 already are obese or overweight, a percentage that has more than doubled during the past three decades. The obesity rate for children ages 6 to 11 has also more than quadrupled – from 4.2 to 19.6 percent – as well as tripled for adolescents ages 12 to 19 – from 4.6 to 18.1 percent – over the past four decades. As a result, we spend an estimated $190 billion every year to treat obesity-related conditions, with childhood health care costs rapidly increasing that number.


The crisis marks the first time in our history that a generation of American children may face a shorter expected lifespan than their parents. Recent research finds lower-income individuals, Blacks, Latinos, American Indians and those living in the southern part of the United States are among those most affected by the crisis. Many of these communities have access to half as many supermarkets as the wealthiest areas. Communities with high levels of poverty are also significantly less likely to have places where children can be physically active, such as parks, green spaces, and bikes paths and lanes.

Researchers also find:

  • By 2007-08, nearly a third of African-American adolescent girls were obese compared to fewer than one in five white adolescent girls.
  • An overweight adolescent has a 70 percent chance of becoming an overweight or obese adult.
  • Obese 6- to 8-year-olds are approximately 10 times more likely to become obese adults.
  • A third of the children born in 2000 in this country will develop diabetes during their lifetime.
  • More than one in four 17- to 24-year-olds in the United States are now too heavy to serve in the military, a development that retired military leaders say endangers the nation’s national security.

For more information, download PHA’s Childhood Obesity brochure here.