Difference Between Childhood Obesity and Overweight

The terms "childhood obesity" and "overweight" are frequently used interchangeably, despite their being a distinction between the two. Both conditions arise from an imbalance in energy balance, or the number of calories in vs the number of calories out. The degree of fat buildup is the primary distinguishing feature between the two states.

Body mass index (BMI = weight / height2 (kg/m)) is used to distinguish between obesity and overweight. While not a perfect predictor of obesity, it does correlate well with other methods of assessment and a variety of metabolic disorders. It needs to be used cautiously since it might lead to false conclusions in some situations.

Children's weight classes are established using gender, age, and height BMI percentiles (percentile is one of the 100 equal groups into which a population can be divided according to the values of a particular variable).

The categories used to describe the weight for children using BMI are −

  • Underweight children − BMI < 5th percentile;

  • Children with normal weight − 5th percentile < BMI < 85th percentile;

  • Overweight children − 85th percentile < BMI < 95th percentile;

  • Obese children − BMI > 95th percentile.

Childhood obesity and overweight cannot be blamed on a single factor. Usually, several factors work in combination, increasing the risk. These factors include −

  • Eating − Excessive consumption of high-calorie foods such as snacks, fried foods, pasta, chocolate, chips, soft drinks, etc. lead to gaining weight.

  • Low physical activity − children who do not play on the street and do not practice sports are more likely to gain extra weight because they do not utilize the consumed calories.

  • Genetic/family factors − children from families with overweight/obese members are more likely to be overweighed/obese. The cause may be genetic, but also a family environment with a traditional unbalanced eating and low physical activity.

  • Psychological factors − some children overeat to make it easier to overcome problems –emotional isolation, stress, boredom, failure to complete school responsibilities, etc.

A paediatrician, endocrinologist, or dietitian should be consulted if a child's parents are concerned about their child's weight. Measuring one's height and weight, calculating one's body mass index (BMI), and comparing the result to accepted norms and standard growth curves form the basis of the diagnosis. A doctor's advice should be sought before beginning any weight reduction programme since an accurate weight evaluation requires knowledge of the individual's muscle mass and level of physical development.

Obese and overweight children can develop serious problems such as diabetes and heart disease, and often these diseases are transmitted to adulthood. These children are at higher risk for the following health problems −

  • Diabetes type 2;

  • Metabolic syndrome;

  • High blood pressure;

  • Asthma and other respiratory problems;

  • Sleep disorders;

  • Liver diseases;

  • Early puberty;

  • Eating disorders.

In addition to the health risks, social and emotional problems can also occur, including −

  • Low self-esteem and tendency to aggressive behavior;

  • Learning problems;

  • Lower social skills;

  • Depression, etc.

The treatment of childhood obesity/overweight is determined by the child’s age and the presence of comorbidities. Treatment usually includes changes in diet and physical activity.

What is Childhood Obesity?

An increase in the number and/or size of fat cells leads to the chronic pathological state of childhood obesity, which is shown by the accumulation of extra fat in the child's body.

When a child's body mass index (BMI) is greater than the 95th percentile for their age, gender, and height, they are classified as obese. It is estimated that between 30 and 45 million youngsters throughout the world are overweight.

There is concern that the excessive amounts of fat in the bodies of obese youngsters may have a harmful impact on their health.

What is Childhood Overweight?

Abnormally high levels of body fat in children are a sign of the illness known as childhood overweight. This condition exists between being a healthy weight and being overweight as a youngster.

Overweight is defined as a body mass index (BMI) that falls between the 85th and 95th percentiles for the child's gender, age, and height. There are 155 million overweight youngsters worldwide.

There is no clear threshold at which the "low risk" becomes "high risk" owing to weight growth; rather, the risk of weight-related health issues gradually increases over the healthy weight range (above the 85th percentile for gender, age, and height). The health risks associated with being overweight are less severe than those associated with being obese, yet they nonetheless exist for youngsters.

Differences: Childhood Obesity and Overweight

The following table highlights the major differences between Childhood Obesity and Overweight −


Childhood Obesity

Childhood Overweight


Obesity in children is a chronic pathological disease defined by the presence of an abnormally large number of fat cells and/or the presence of fat cells that are larger than normal throughout the child's body.

For children, being overweight is defined as having a higher percentage of fat in their bodies than is considered healthy. This condition exists between being a healthy weight and being overweight as a youngster.


Obese children are those whose body mass index (BMI) is greater than the 95th percentile for their age, gender, and height.

A kid is deemed overweight if his or her body mass index (BMI) falls between the 85th and 95th percentiles for his or her gender, age, and height.


There are 30-45 million overweight children in the world.

155 million youngsters throughout the world are overweight.


Obesity in children is characterized by a buildup of extra fat that may have deleterious consequences on health.

Although while the health risks associated with childhood obesity are reduced, they nevertheless persist.


Childhood obesity and overweight are two distinct medical conditions that affect children differently. While both conditions can lead to long-term health problems, childhood obesity is considered a more serious issue and requires a comprehensive treatment plan. Understanding the difference between the two is crucial in addressing the issue effectively and promoting healthy growth and development in children.

Updated on: 04-Apr-2023


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