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Health Facts Related to Children and Adolescents

  • 1 in 10 of the world’s school children are overweight, and the number of overweight adolescents in the US has tripled in the past two decades.
  • 45 million children across the globe have an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses before they leave their teens.
  • Inactivity is more common among females (14%) than males (7%).
  • Participation in all types of physical activity declines strikingly as age or grade in school increases.
  • In 2003, more than 1/3 of US high school students did not regularly engage in vigorous physical activity.
  • Type 2 diabetes, previously considered an adult disease, has increased dramatically in children and adolescents.
  • Overweight and obesity are closely linked to Type 2 diabetes.
  • Overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.
  • This increases to 80% if one or more parents are overweight or obese.
  • The most immediate consequence of being overweight perceived by children themselves is social discrimination. This is associated with poor self-esteem and depression.

Causes of Obesity

  • Overweight conditions in children and adolescents is generally caused by lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of the two, with genetics and lifestyle both playing important roles in determining a child’s weight.
  • 43% of adolescents watch more than two hours of television each day.
  • Children, especially girls, become less active as they move through adolescence.

Parents’ Views on Children’s Health and Fitness

A survey issued by the National Association for Sport and Physical Fitness in April 2003 yielded the following results:

  • 95% of all parents think that regular, daily physical activity helps children do better academically.
  • Three of four parents (76%) think more school physical education could help control or prevent childhood obesity.
  • 95% of parents think physical education should be a part of a school curriculum for all students in grades K-12.
  • At least 54% of parents believe physical education is as important or more important than academics such as math, science and English.
  • 73% of parents think that parents and school officials should work together to make decisions about what students eat and drink at school.

If a Child is Overweight

  • Many overweight children who are still growing will not need to lose weight, but can reduce their rate of weight gain so that they can “grow into” their weight.
  • A child’s diet should be safe and nutritious. It should include all of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for vitamins, minerals and protein, and contain foods from the major Food Guide Pyramid groups. Any weight-loss diet should be low in calories (energy) only, not in essential nutrients.
  •  Weight loss achieved during a diet is frequently regained unless children are motivated to change their eating habits and activity levels for a lifetime.
  • Parents should plan family activities that include physical activity.
  • Parents should register children for physical activity programs.
  • Parents should remind children of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, which includes a nutritious diet and plenty of physical activity.

Benefits of Physical Activity

Physical activity in childhood and adolescence helps:

  • To build healthy bones, muscles and joints
  • Control weight, build lean muscle and reduce fat
  • Prevent or delay the development of high blood pressure and helps reduce blood pressure in children suffering from hypertension
  • Lay the basis for being regularly active throughout life

Physical Activity Suggestions

  • Children should be physically active. It is recommended that children engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Even greater amounts of activity may be necessary for the prevention of weight gain, for weight loss or for sustaining weight loss.
  • Play family activities that provide everyone with exercise and enjoyment.
  • Provide a safe environment for your children and their friends to play actively; encourage swimming, biking, skating, ball sports and other fun activities.
  • Reduce the amount of time families spend in sedentary activities such as watching TV or playing video games. Limit TV time to less than two hours a day.
  • Keep active through the winter months by skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding and/or sledding.


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention; National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Decrease Obesity and Overweight
The Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health; Adolescents and Young Adults
National Association for Sport and Physical Fitness Education
2004 International Obesity Task Force