The cause for obesity and overweight in children is the same as for adults: consuming too many calories and burning too few. Kids who spend more time inside the house watching television, surfing the Internet, and playing video games are at increased risk.

It is important for children to get enough physical activity, not only for weight control, but also for proper development. What complicates the situation further for children is that they are still growing. Additional calories and nutrients help this process along, so it is important to distinguish what is excessive weight gain and what is normal development.

Doctors use the child and teen body mass index (BMI) to evaluate children's weight and compare the number to statistics for other children at the same stage of development. They also consider family history, other medical problems, and the child's diet and exercise habits before deciding if treatment is necessary.

Proper diet and exercise are key components of a child's weight loss program. Parents can keep nourishing snacks in the house and cook healthy meals to be eaten as a family, not in front of the television. Parents can also provide opportunities for their children to be physically active, whether that means organized sports, going to the playground, or helping to wash the car.

In most cases, children who are obese or overweight are usually not treated using medications or surgery. Sibutramine (Meridia) and orlistat (Xenical) are approved for use in older children, but they are seldom used. Risks and benefits of these medications in children are still being studied. Weight loss surgery is generally not recommended for children because the effects on development are still largely unknown.

Publication Review By: Karen Larson, M.D.

Published: 15 Nov 2006

Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015