Around 3.5 percent of U.S. children and teens (ages 2 to 19) are underweight. Combining underweight (3.5 percent) and obese (17 percent) children — 20.5 percent of children have increased health risks due to being an unhealthy weight.1,2
Underweight can be a sign of malnutrition, and can result from poverty and/or inability to access nutritious food. Children who are malnourished are deprived of essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are required for proper early childhood and adolescent cognitive and psychosocial-behavioral development. Studies over the last 20 years have found stunted development processes resulting in decreased academic achievement, increased social behavioral problems, emotional deficits and physical inactivity.3,4,5,6,7
- Underweight rates are consistent across all age groups. Boys are 1.5 times more likely to be underweight (4.2 percent) than girls (2.8 percent).8
- Underweight rates have been relatively stable for the past 15 years.
1 Fryar CD and Ogden CL. Prevalence of Underweight Among Children and Adolescents Aged 2-19 Years: United States, 1963-1965 Through 2011-2012. National Center for Health Statistics Health E-Stat, 2014. (accessed May 2015).
2 Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA 311(8):806-814, 2014.
3 Granham-McGregor S, Cheung YB, Cueto S, Glewwe P, Richter L, Strupp B, and the International Child Development Steering Group. Developmental potential in the first 5 years for child in developing countries. The Lancet, 369(9555):60-70, 2007.
4 Grantham-McGregor S. A review of studies of the effect of severe malnutrition on mental development. The Journal of Nutrition, 125 (Suppl 8):2233s-2238s, 1995.
5 Walker PS, Wachs TD, Gardner JM, Lozoff B, Wasserman GA, Pollitt E, Carter JA, the International Child Development Steering Group. Child development: Risk factors for adverse outcomes in developing countries. The Lancet, 369(9556)13-19, 2007.
6 Kleinman RE, Murphy J M, Little M, Pa- gano M, Wehler CA, Regal K, Jellinek MS. Hunger in children in the United States: Potential behavioral and emotional correlates. Pediatrics, 101(1):e3, 1998 (accessed May 2015).
7 Alaimo K, Olson CM, Frongilio EA. Food insufficiency and American school-aged children’s cognitive, academic, and psychosocial development. Pediatrics, 108(1):44-53, 2001.
8 Fryar CD and Ogden CL. Prevalence of Underweight Among Children and Adolescents Aged 2-19 Years: United States, 1963-1965 through 2011-2012. National Center for Health Statistics Health E-Stat, 2014. (accessed May 2015).