Medical Perspectives | Others

May 11, 2021

The World Health Organization says that "childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century". Global statistics in 2016 pegged the number of overweight children under five years old at 41 million. Of these, almost 50% are from Asia.1


The Statistics


In the Philippines, the numbers from the 8th National Nutrition Survey show that childhood overweight and obesity rates are continuing to rise. Over a span of more than two decades, overweight children under the age of five rose from 1% in 1989 to 5% in 2013. In the age group 5-10 years old, the number has also risen from 5.8% in 2003 to 9.1% in 2013.2


The impact of being overweight on children is more likely to extend in adulthood. The Merck Manual of Medical Information explains that "when weight is gained during infancy and early childhood, new fat cells form. People who become obese during childhood may have up to five times more fat cells than people who maintained a normal weight."


The numbers and trends are raising alarm bells, with Dr John Foreyt, a world-renowned authority on obesity, calling it an epidemic. "We're in the midst of an obesity epidemic," he said.3


The Difference Between Overweight and Obese


While both conditions indicate excessive weight, there is a medical distinction between the two, based on body mass index or BMI. An overweight person has more pounds than what is considered normal according to age or build. An obese person is one who has excessive body fat, with a BMI over 30.4


For children ages 2-19, the BMI chart has four categories:5

  • underweight, with BMI below 5th percentile
  • normal weight, BMI at 5th and below 85th percentile
  • overweight, BMI at 85th and below 95th percentile
  • obese, BMI at or above 95th percentile


What Leads to Overweight or Obese Children


Different factors contribute to become overweight or obese, including6

  • diet habits
  • lack of exercise or physical activity
  • genetics
  • medical condition, such as endocrine problem


Consumption of too much sugar and not enough physical activity can lead to stored fat in the body, as explained by Dr Nicky Montoya, "When children consume too much sugar and calories and there is not enough physical activity to burn these off, they stay in the body as stored fats. These fats cause the children to pack on extra pounds, which would lead to obesity if left uncontrolled."7


How to Prevent Childhood Overweight & Obesity


A healthy lifestyle is the first line of defense against overweight or obesity. Parents should encourage and influence children to eat the right foods and engage in regular physical activity. Limiting more passive activities such as watching TV or using the computer can free up time for more physical play and interaction.8


KidsHealth recommends supplementary tips based on age groups:9

Birth to 1 year old: breastfeeding is encouraged, as it may prevent gaining too much weight

Ages 1 to 5: Teach good eating habits and expose children to healthy foods

Ages 6-12: Encourage physical activity such as organized sports or regular family walks. Teach them to prepare their own lunch boxes, to sustain appreciation of healthy foods and balanced diets.

Ages 13-18: Involve teenagers in preparing meals at home, which adds to their understanding of healthy food choices


[1] World Health Organization. [n.d.] Childhood overweight and obesity. Retrieved from

[2] World Health Organization. [2017, July]. Addressing Childhood Obesity in the Philippines. Retrieved from

[3] Tacio, H. [2017, July]. Obese Filipinos now ballooning. Retrieved from

[4] [2013]. Overweight vs. Obese. Retrieved from

[5] Gavin, M. [2018, June]. Overweigh and Obesity. Retrieved from

[6] Gavin, M. [2018, June]. Overweigh and Obesity. Retrieved from

[7] [n.d.]. Childhood obesity: What you can do. Retrieved from

[8] [n.d.]. Childhood obesity: What you can do. Retrieved from

[9] Gavin, M. [2018, June]. Overweigh and Obesity. Retrieved from


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