This page provides evidence based answers to some of the basic questions about childhood obesity. 

Obesity in General

1. What is Obesity?

Obesity is when the body is carrying excess body fat. This increases the risk of developing obesity related conditions.

2. How is it measured and diagnosed?

Obesity is diagnosed by body mass index (BMI), which is calculated from weight and height.

A healthy BMI for adults (over the age of 18 years) is between 18 – 25 kg/m².
BMI measurements alone can be misleading – an elite athlete may have a relatively higher BMI but much less body fat than a unfit person. For a more accurate estimation of total body fat other tests such as total body composition estimation by bio impedance analysis (BIA) and Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan can be used.

3. What causes being overweight or obese?

Obesity is due to an imbalance between energy intake (food) and energy used (exercise). This is the result of multiple factors including behaviour, environment and genetics. To read more on the causes of obesity click on this link

4. What's wrong with begin overweight or obese?

Carrying extra weight increases your risk of health complications. There are more than 40 different complications of obesity. The most common are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and sleep disturbances. To see more of the complications click on this link

Childhood Obesity

1. How is childhood obesity different from adults?

Obesity in children is still measured using the BMI, however because children are still growing this needs to be taken into account and BMI-for-age centiles are used. To calculate your child’s BMI click on this link.

2. Does childhood obesity affect children in the same way as adults?

Being obese in childhood increases the risk of the same obesity related complications as in adults. Children who are obese are 70% more likely to be obese as adults. Being obese as a child does however have a much greater psychological impact, leading to bullying, depression and low self esteem.

3. How does the management of childhood obesity differ from adults?

The key principles of a health diet, exercise, and behavioural changes still apply when managing childhood obesity. The difference is in the need to have a thorough understanding of not just the child, but the entire family unit. Research has shown that lifestyle and behaviour change programs work best when the entire family is involved.

4. Should children ever have obesity surgery?

There is increasing recognition of the role for surgery in managing children with serious obesity problems. Many countries including Australia, have accepted guidelines for considering children for obesity surgery. Children, more so than adults, should only receive obesity surgery in centres that can provide all necessary support services and most importantly a pathway for longterm care into adulthood. Click here to see the guidelines

Common Myths of Childhood Obesity

'My child is 'big boned', everyone in the family is big'

If your child’s weight is above the normal range for their age and height then they are overweight or obese. The focus should be on the growth and BMI charts.

'My child will grow into their weight'

Children gain weight as they grow, however it cannot be relied on that a child will grow into their weight. Depending on dietary factors and activity levels your child is just as likely to continue gaining excess weight.

'Childhood obesity is the parents' fault'

Childhood obesity is the result of many things, not just the diet and exercise habits of the family. Childhood obesity can also be the result of genetics, family incomes, schools, the media and the modern day environment in general.

'Weight loss is just about diet and exercise'

Healthy eating and exercise must be part of the weight loss plan, however they are often not enough to maintain weight loss. Other factors including ongoing support, and lifestyle and behaviours are critical to achieving longterm weight loss.