Childhood Obesity Trends

Find the latest data and trends on childhood obesity from major surveys that track rates at the national and state level, including the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the National Survey of Children’s Health, the WIC Participant and Program Characteristics, and the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.

NHANES

National trends

The latest data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show that the national obesity rate among youth ages 2 to 19 is 18.5%. The rate varies among different age groups, with rates rising along with age. While overall obesity rates remain higher than they were a generation ago, the rise in rates has slowed in recent years, following decades of sharp increases starting in the early 1970s.

Since the 1976–1980 NHANES survey, overall childhood obesity rates have more than tripled, up from 5.5%. Among 2- to 5-year-olds, the rate more than doubled, from 5% to 13.9%, as did the rate of 6- to 11-year-olds with obesity, from 6.5% to 18.4%. Among teens ages 12 to 19, the rate quadrupled, from 5% to 20.6%.

NHANES

differences by race and ethnicity

The most recent NHANES from 2015-2016 shows substantial differences in obesity rates among children of different races and ethnicities.

Obesity rates are higher among Latino children (25.8%) and Black children (22%) than among White children (14.1%) and Asian children (11.0%). Latino boys (28.0%) and Black girls (25.1%) are most likely to have obesity.

NHANES

Differences by Age and Sex

The prevalence of obesity and severe obesity increases with age. In 2015-2016, 13.9% of children ages 2 to 5, 18.4% of children ages 6 to 11 and 20.6% of children ages 12 to 19 had obesity. Nearly 2% of children ages 2 to 5, 5.2% of children ages 6 to 11 and 7.7% of children ages 12 to 19 had severe obesity.

Boys are slightly more likely to have obesity than girls. In 2015-2016, 19.1% of boys had obesity and 17.8% of girls ages 2 to 19 had obesity. Between 2013-2014 and 2015-2016, the obesity rate of boys went up 11%, while the percent of girls with obesity increased by 4%.

WIC Participants

obesity among children ages 2-4

Data from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) show a statistically significant decrease in obesity among 2- to 4-year-old children who were enrolled in the program—from 15.9% in 2010 to 14.5% in 2014.

These reductions were widespread, with significant decreases in 31 states and significant increases in only four states. On a state level, obesity rates ranged from a low of 8.2% in Utah to a high of 20.0% in Virginia in 2014. 

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According to CDC analyses, revisions to the WIC food package, providing WIC recipients with more healthy food options, WIC’s efforts to promote and support breastfeeding, and other prevention initiatives may have contributed to the decline in rates.

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, November 2016 

WIC Participants

Differences by race and ethnicity

While the most recent study of young children enrolled in WIC shows widespread reductions in obesity rates among all major racial and ethnic groups, young WIC participants still have much higher obesity rates than the general population of children.

WIC data also show racial and ethnic disparities in rates. Among WIC participants ages 2 to 4, 18.0% of American Indian/Alaska Natives, 17.3% of Latinos, 12.2% of Whites, 11.9% of Blacks and 11.1% of Asian/ Pacific Islanders had obesity in 2014.

NSCH

Obesity rates Among children ages 10-17

In 2016-17, the National Survey of Children’s Health reported that nationwide, 15.8% of children ages 10 to 17 had obesity.

The states with the highest rates of obesity for 10- to 17-year-olds were Mississippi (26.1%), West Virginia (20.3%), and Kentucky (19.3%). The states with the lowest rates of obesity were Utah (8.7%), New Hampshire (9.8%), and Washington (10.1%).

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YRBSS

High school obesity rates

According to data from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 14.8% of high school students (grades 9 to 12) nationwide had obesity and 15.6% were overweight. The obesity rate has increased significantly, up from 10.6% in 1999.

State by state obesity levels varied considerably—from 9.5% in Colorado to 21.7% in Arkansas. This the first time YRBSS identified states with high school obesity rates above 20%, including in Arkansas (21.7%), Kentucky (20.2%). and Tennessee (20.5%).

view the full interactive

YRBSS

inequities in rates

The latest YRBSS data show that high schoolers who were male (17.5%), Black (18.2%) Latino (18.2%), and lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) (20.5%) had particularly high levels of obesity in 2017. Male students who were Latino (22.2%) and male student who were LGB (21.9%) had the highest rates among these groups.

States with the highest level of obesity among high school students were all in the South: Arkansas (21.7%), Tennessee (20.5%), Kentucky (20.2%), West Virginia (19.5%), Texas (18.6%), South Carolina (17.2%), Oklahoma (17.1%), and Louisiana (17.0%). States with the lowest obesity rates were: Colorado (9.5%), Utah (9.6%), and Florida (10.9%).

Assessing ChilDhood Obesity

Because kids are still growing, obesity is measured differently among children than adults. Instead of a simple BMI measurement, a child’s BMI is compared to others of the same age and sex. Children with BMIs at the 95th percentile or above are considered obese, and those with a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentiles are considered overweight.

Learn More

As with adult obesity rates, this site relies on multiple survey instruments to paint a complete picture of childhood obesity in America:

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey at CDC measures obesity rates among Americans ages two and older and is the primary source for national obesity data in this report of children ages 2 to 19. NHANES is particularly valuable in that it combines interviews with physical examinations and covers a wide age range of Americans. However, due to the delay between collection and reporting, the timeliness of its data can lag. 

The WIC Participant and Program Characteristics (WIC PC), a USDA survey analyzed for obesity trends by CDC, is a report of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children on the results of its biennial census of families served by the program. The data it collects include height and weight information. Because the program provides assistance only to low-income mothers and children under the age of 5, this dataset is limited. However, because obesity disproportionately affects the poor, and early childhood is a critical time for obesity prevention, the dataset provides valuable information for evaluating the effectiveness of programs aimed at reducing obesity rates and health disparities.

The National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) surveys parents of children ages 10 to 17 about all aspects of their children’s health, including height and weight. An advantage of this survey is that it includes both national and state-by-state data, so obesity rates between states can be compared. A disadvantage is that it relies on parent reports, not direct measures. Starting in 2016, the survey is conducted annually, but because the methodology changed in 2016, it is not possible to compare data collected previously with data collected in 2016 or later. Trends can be evaluated starting in 2016 and moving forward. 

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) tracks high-risk health behaviors among students in grades 9-12, including dietary behaviors and physical inactivity. The survey also measures the prevalence of obesity by asking respondents about their height and weight. As in other surveys that use self-reported data to measure obesity rates, this survey likely underreports the true rates. The survey is conducted in odd-numbered years. The most recent public YRBSS obesity data are from the 2017 survey.

Fast Facts

31

Thirty-one states reported a significant drop in obesity among 2- to 4-year-old WIC participants from 2010 to 2014.

4x

Since 1980, obesity rates
among teens ages 12 to 19 quadrupled,
from 5% to 20.6%.

$14B

In the U.S., childhood obesity alone is estimated to cost $14 billion annually in direct health expenses.