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Start Early to Prevent Childhood Obesity

Published on Nov 22, 2017
Medically reviewed by Charles A. Thompson, MD, FAAP

Today, we are learning more and more about how childhood nutrition and physical fitness affect our health as we age. For example, science has shown that being an obese child increases the chances of being an obese adult. It also increases a person’s risk of developing serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.

That’s why it is vital to the future of our children and society that we help kids of all ages lead a more active and healthy lifestyle.

How is Childhood Obesity Diagnosed?

7% of children in Australia aged between 2 and their late teens are obese. In New Zealand, the figure is 11%. A groundbreaking survey of almost 200 countries found that obesity rates in Australia and New Zealand have soared by more than 80 per cent in the past 33 years, the biggest increase of any country. In children over age 2, obesity is diagnosed using the Body Mass Index (BMI). This is a calculation that uses a child’s height and weight. A percentile is used to indicate the relative position of the child’s BMI number among children of the same age and sex.

Children are considered to be overweight when they have a BMI greater than the 85th percentile but less than the 95th percentile. Childhood obesity is diagnosed when a child has a BMI greater than the 95th percentile. To better understand what a child’s BMI indicates, picture a line of 100 children of the same age and sex lined up according to their BMI, from the thinnest to the heaviest. An overweight child would have only 5 to 15 children with a higher BMI than him or her, while an obese child would be one of the 5 heaviest children in the line.

Preventing Childhood Obesity With the 5-2-1-0 Rule
It is important that each of us plays a role in encouraging a lifestyle for our children that promotes optimal health and well-being. According to the Healthy Active Living Initiative, an obesity prevention programme recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics, families should follow the 5-2-1-0 rule:

  • 5 fruits and vegetables a day    
  • 2 hours or less of screen time (TV, computer, video games) per day    
  • 1 hour of physical activity per day    
  • 0 sugar-sweetened drinks

Additionally, families should try to develop routines that encourage healthier living by regularly preparing and eating meals together, reducing fast-food and eating out, and encouraging physical activity.

And don’t forget about the role your child’s health care providers can play in helping kids stay healthy. Partnering with your child’s paediatrician may help to prevent and address childhood obesity. Paediatricians are not only an excellent source of information on nutrition and physical activity, but they routinely follow your child’s growth, development and risk factors.

Ultimately, we owe it to our children to follow the advice we may have received from our own parents and pass on that wisdom to help build healthy habits that may last a lifetime.

Dr. Thompson is a paediatrician in Pfizer’s Medical organisation. He is the Lead for the Pfizer Paediatric Center of Excellence and Chair of the American Academy of Paediatrics Section on Advances in Therapeutics and Technology. He also holds an academic faculty appointment and medical staff position in Hartford, Connecticut.



  • 1. Who is overweight? AIHW 2013. Accessed 13/2/2017.
  • 2. Obesity Statistics. NZ Ministry of Health 2016. Accessed 13/2/2017.
  • 3. Obesity rates soar in Australia, a global survey reveals. Sydney Morning Herald 2014. Accessed 13/2/2017.
  • 4. Aust Dept Health Medical Research Council.Clinical Practice Guidelines for the management of overweigh and obesity in adults, adolescents and childrenin Australia 2013. Accessed 13/2/2017.
  • 5. Best Practice Advocacy Centre New Zealand. Addressing weight issues in young people and families in New Zealand. Best Practice Journal 2012. Accessed 13/2/2017.
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