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Teaching Nutrition: Background information about nutrition, the nutrients, and healthy eating habits
Overweight and Obesity

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There has been a lot of media attention paid to what has been termed America’s “obesity epidemic”. Americans have been gaining weight; as a population we are becoming dangerously fat. In 2004, the Texas Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System found that 37.1% of adults in Texas were overweight, and 25.8% were obese.

Different people naturally come in different shapes and sizes. However, having a high percentage of body fat has been linked to a number of health problems, including high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol (dyslipidemia), coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer (especially endometrial, breast, colon), gallbladder disease, and other ailments such as sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, and joint pain.

Body weight increases when the number of calories consumed is greater than the number of calories burned. The excess calories, those consumed but not burned or turned into tissue for growth, are converted into body fat. To avoid the accumulation of excessive or harmful body fat, calorie consumption should be balanced with calorie “spending”.

The type of food eaten does have an impact on calorie consumption. Fats provide 9 calories per gram; carbohydrates and protein provide 4 calories per gram; alcohol provides 7 calories per gram. Fiber provides bulk (fills the stomach) without providing calories (because it cannot be digested). This is why it is often recommended that Americans focus on a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, accent with lean dairy and protein products, and avoid high-sugar and high-fat beverages and desserts. Following such a plan would naturally provide a lower fat and lower calorie menu.

Children and adults are classified differently when it comes to weight. One common system used with adults is Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI computes a numeric score using a person’s body weight and height. [BMI = wt (in kg) / ht (in m) 2] If the BMI score is less 18.5, the person is considered underweight. If the BMI score is at or between 18.5 and 24.9, the person is considered to be at a normal, healthy weight. If the BMI score is at or between 25 and 29.9, the person is considered to be above the ideal body weight, or overweight. If the BMI score is at or above 30.0, the person is considered to be very overweight or obese.

For children, tracking weight is more complicated. Many doctors use the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s growth charts to determine whether a child is overweight or at-risk for overweight. The chart provides a percentile ranking based on a child’s gender, age, and BMI (weight and height). Children classified between the 85th and 95th percentiles are considered “at-risk for overweight”; children at or above the 95th percentile are considered “overweight”.

The CDC charts are available at:

Explanation for use of the charts is available at:

Remember, only a child’s physician and/or parents should make any diagnoses or judgments about body weight. It is natural for children to fluctuate in body weight and to gain weight prior to a growth spurt. Healthy development can take place over a wide range of “normalcy”.

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