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Childhood Obesity Facts

PTAs can use the following facts to encourage their schools and communities to take action to improve student nutrition and physical activity and to create healthier homes and schools.

Definitions and Causes

Overweight is defined as having too much body weight for a particular height. Obesity is defined as having too much body fat.1

Both overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed. In other words: poor diet and lack of physical activity both contribute to obesity.1

Children’s eating habits and physical activity behaviors are influenced by many factors, including families, communities, and schools.1


Obesity and overweight may be more pervasive than you think, and they’re quickly becoming more common:

  • Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.1
  • More than one third of children and adolescents were obese or overweight in 2008.1
  • In African American and Hispanic communities, as many as 40 percent of children may be overweight or obese.2
  • The percentage of children ages 6­–11 in the United States who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 20 percent in 2008. The percentage of adolescents ages 12–19 who were obese increased from 5 percent to 18 percent during the same period.1

Health Consequences

Overweight and obesity have immediate, negative consequences for children’s health:

  • Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or an inability to process sugar properly. In one study of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70 percent of obese youth had at least one risk factor.1
  • Obese adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes, indicating a high risk for development of diabetes.1
  • Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and emotional problems such as stigmatization, bullying and poor self-esteem.1

Youth who are obese or overweight also face long-term health consequences:

  • Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults. Risks include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke,  and osteoarthritis.1
  • If we don’t reverse the current childhood obesity trend, one-third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives.2
  • Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.1

Relationship to Learning

While more research is needed, some studies are showing that a healthy lifestyle can boost academic achievement.

  • Research suggests that heavier children have greater risk for school absenteeism than their peers.3
  • Studies have found that children who spend more time in physical education or other forms of physical activity are more likely to achieve higher reading, math, and standardized test scores. This appears to be true even when the added time for physical activity takes away from time in the classroom.4
  • Participation in extracurricular physical activity is associated with decreased high school dropout rates.4
  • Research shows that 15–30 minutes of daily physical activity can improve academic focus and classroom behavior in all grades.4
  • A healthier diet has been shown to correlate with higher test scores.5
  • Evidence suggests that eating breakfast may improve children’s memory, test grades, and school attendance.6


  • Healthy habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.1
  • Schools can play a particularly critical role in supporting healthy behaviors. Schools provide opportunities for students to learn about and practice healthy eating and physical activity.1
  • School-based interventions can be effective in improving students’ health and academic performance.7


1Childhood Obesity Facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

2Learn the Facts, Let’s Move:

3Geier, A. B., Foster, G. D., Womble, L. G., McLaughlin, J., Borradaile, K. E., Nachmani, J., et al. (2007). The relationship between relative weight and school attendance among elementary schoolchildren, Obesity 15, 2157–2161,

4Leadership for Healthy Communities, Making the Connection: Linking Academic Achievement to Policies to Promote Physical Activity (2011):

5Florence, M. D., Asbridge, M., & Veugelers, P. J. (2008). Diet quality and academic performance. Journal of School Health 78, 209–215,

6Rampersaud, G. C., Pereira, M. A., Girard, B. L., Adams, J., Metzl, J. D. (2005). Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 105, 743–60,

7Hollar, D., Messiah, S. E., Lopez-Mitnik, G., Hollar, T. L., Almon, M., & Agatston, A. S. (2010). Effect of a two-year obesity prevention intervention on percentile changes in body mass index and academic performance in low-income elementary school children. American Journal of Public Health 100, 646-653,

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