How Do I Know if My Child Is Overweight or Obese?

In recent years, children are more and more likely to be overweight or obese due to poor nutrition in many households. Discover the signs.
How Do I Know if My Child Is Overweight or Obese?
Saúl Sánchez Arias

Written and verified by the nutritionist Saúl Sánchez Arias.

Last update: 04 December, 2022

When children are overweight or obese, this represents serious health problems that condition the functioning of the body in the medium term. In addition, they generate sequelae, both in terms of metabolism and in the efficiency of many other organs. For this reason, prevention is essential.

In recent years, the rates of excess weight and obesity in children have increased due to a worsening of their diet. In general, a large amount of industrial ultra-processed products are included in the diet, which are low-quality products that provide simple sugars, trans fats, and excess calories.

What do we mean when we talk about children that are overweight or obese?

Normally, a formula is used to diagnose that a child is overweight by obtaining the value of the body mass index. However, in children under 5 years of age, this mechanism isn’t efficient, so a comparative system based on the analysis of a large population is used.

If a child under 5 years of age has a weight according to their height that’s 2 standard deviations above the median for their age and sex, they’ll be diagnosed as overweight. If they’re 3 standard deviations above, we could speak of obesity. From the age of 5, the BMI (body mass index) starts to be used as a predictor, but the problem is diagnosed when the child is above the 95th percentile for their sex and age.

Two overweight girls using exercise equipment at the park.
Daily physical exercise and a good diet, among other healthy habits, are essential to fight obesity.

What are the risk factors for the development of obesity?

There are habits that can condition the development of excess weight or obesity in children. In the following paragraphs, we’ll tell you how to prevent them.


One of the habits to eradicate is sedentarism. It’s clear that physical activity improves body composition and increases the number of calories consumed daily. In this way, the progressive accumulation of fatty tissue becomes less likely.

A poor diet

At the same time, diet also plays a fundamental role. Exclusive breastfeeding during the first months of life has been shown to protect against the development of metabolic diseases, including obesity. Breast milk contains a multitude of probiotics that colonize the tube and prevent the development of alterations in the digestion of nutrients and their subsequent use.

In addition, it’s essential to reduce the presence of ultra-processed foods in the diet. Simple sugars and trans fats increase the risk of weight gain, as stated in a study published in the journal Frontiers in Bioscience . The best thing to do is to increase the consumption of fresh foods, as they provide quality nutrients and fewer calories.

An overweight child holding a plate of fried foods.
Reducing the presence of ultra-processed foods in the diet is key, as they contain simple sugars and trans fats that increase the risk of weight gain.

Other diseases associated with children being overweight or obese

When a child becomes overweight or obese, it’s because something in their body isn’t working as it should or because habits aren’t adequate. Therefore, a large amount of fat accumulates around the organs, making it difficult for them to function. From this point on, metabolic alterations are experienced that increase the risk of suffering from diabetes.

At the same time, obesity and the consumption of large amounts of simple sugars cause problems in the functioning of the liver and kidneys. Also, the heart is affected, as blood pressure parameters vary consistently. Even the brain can experience alterations in terms of emotional health.

It should be noted that once obesity develops, the side effects of obesity can last a lifetime. For this reason, it’s important to prevent the problem and remedy it as soon as the first out-of-normal weight increases are detected.

Excess weight and obesity during childhood, a growing health problem

The fact that rates of children who are overweight or obese have soared in recent years has generated a public health problem of great importance. Therefore, it’s important to raise awareness in order to reverse this situation and prevent it from escalating.

It’s essential to educate children on the need to adopt a series of healthy lifestyle habits. These include regular physical exercise and a good diet. If ultra-processed products predominate in the diet, it’s more likely that metabolic and cardiovascular problems will develop in the near future.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Ma, J., Qiao, Y., Zhao, P., Li, W., Katzmarzyk, P. T., Chaput, J. P., Fogelholm, M., Kuriyan, R., Lambert, E. V., Maher, C., Maia, J., Matsudo, V., Olds, T., Onywera, V., Sarmiento, O. L., Standage, M., Tremblay, M. S., Tudor-Locke, C., Hu, G., & ISCOLE Research Group (2020). Breastfeeding and childhood obesity: A 12-country study. Maternal & child nutrition16(3), e12984.
  • Freeman, C. R., Zehra, A., Ramirez, V., Wiers, C. E., Volkow, N. D., & Wang, G. J. (2018). Impact of sugar on the body, brain, and behavior. Frontiers in bioscience (Landmark edition)23, 2255–2266.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.