Americans are gaining weight, and children are no exception. “Crisis” and “epidemic” are often used to describe growing obesity rates and looking at the statistics, it’s not surprising why.

During the past 20 years, the number of overweight children and adolescents has doubled, and now comprises 31.9% of this population, with the number of those who are obese reaching 16.3%, data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicate.

“Primary care clinicians can have an impact on obesity rates because they have an ongoing relationship with children and their families,” Edith J. Chernoff, MD, FAAP, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago and Comer’s Children Hospital, also in Chicago, said in an interview.

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“Tackling obesity often takes skills that are not taught in medical school,” Mary Ann Witt, DNSC, PNP, assistant professor of nursing at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, N.Y., told Clinical Advisor. “Physicians learn about how to treat diseases and repair the body, but don’t spend much time learning how to change behaviors.”

Because obesity is complex, clinicians must use a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to prevent it. But first they must identify overweight and obese children. Every child and adolescent should be screened for overweight and obesity beginning at age 2 years and have their BMI percentile tracked annually, AAP recommendations state. Children with a BMI in the 85th and 95th percentiles are overweight, whereas those with a BMI greater than the 95th percentile are considered obese.

Marc S. Jacobson, MD, a pediatric lipid specialist in New Hyde Park, N.Y., suggested that clinicians set aside time during each visit to explain to parents what BMI means. Family history of obesity, diet and activity levels are other factors that should be discussed, as well as the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.