Skip to Content


Healthy Kids

  • What is childhood obesity?

What is childhood obesity?


Claire Kenamore

Questions and Answers from Billings Clinic Pediatrician Claire Kenamore, MD.


What is the definition of childhood obesity?

When a child has excessive body fat, he or she is considered obese. The words “obese” and “overweight” are medical terms. Health professionals consider a child obese when his or her body mass index, often called “BMI” (see body mass index calculator link on this webpage) is greater than 95% of other boys or girls of their exact same age. Overweight is considered to be greater than 85% of other boys or girls the same age.

What percent of kids in Montana are obese?

That's a good question! Since we don't have a good way to report and count that number in Montana, we don't really know. Most other states in the United States do keep track of that number. Mississippi is the "fattest" state with 39% of its children being obese, and Utah is the "thinnest" state with 22% of its children being obese. On average, 31% of American children are overweight or obese.

We do have an estimate for Yellowstone County. According to the Yellowstone County Community Health Needs Assessment (2013-2014), parents have reported heights and weights of their children. Using these numbers and the BMI calculator, the research shows that about 29% of Yellowstone County children are overweight or obese. But this is assumes that parents report accurate weights and heights. Some parents don’t realize that their child is overweight and they really are.

This obesity video public service announcement (PSA) campaign should get people talking about obesity in Montana so we can start keeping better track of the problem here at home. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away.

Why has the prevalence of obesity in the United States changed so drastically?

Diets are fattier, portions are larger. Families eat out more. Unhealthy food prices have dropped. Schools are no longer given "extra" funding for daily PE, recess equipment, or healthy foods.

Does it really matter if children are obese?

Yes! Being obese is hard. Overweight kids are more likely to have depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, low energy, sleep apnea, joint pains, and skin problems.

This is the first time in American history that the current generation's life expectancy will be less than their parents.

What can I do if I think I am obese?

Lots of people want to help you! You could tell your parents, your health teacher, your doctor, your friends, or any one else you consider a supportive person in your life. We all know that to lose weight we need to eat better, turn off the TV, and exercise more, but we need to be supported. Dieticians specialize in helping people lose weight.

The YMCA has programs that specialize in helping kids lose weight too, and they only ask you to pay what you can afford to pay. Your support network knows you better than anyone else, so they will help you figure out what types of healthy foods and activities best fit YOUR life. Losing weight should be a gradual process--about 1 pound per week. Skipping meals only makes your metabolism slow down and eventually you will gain that weight back. Instead, replace unhealthy foods with healthy ones - like fruits and vegetables.

And don't forget to tell all your family and friends that you are on a mission to get healthy! That way the next time you are thirsty, instead of asking if you want a pop, they can ask if you want water instead.

eNewsletter on Healthy Diet

eNewsletter on Healthy Diet

Signup for our FREE monthly eNewsletter to receive more information about Healthy Diet.

Subscribe today

Healthy choices

BMI for Child and Teen Calculator

Recipes from Billings Clinic