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Early Childhood Overweight and Obesity

little girl with plate of french fries


Overweight or obesity is defined as an excessively high body weight relative to height.  Body mass index (or BMI) is a measure used to compare weight to height.  In children, BMI is compared to children of the same age and sex, using CDC growth charts to determine the BMI percentile-for-age and sex. 

A child is classified as obese, overweight, normal or healthy weight, or underweight.

  • Obese (BMI above 95th percentile)
  • Overweight (BMI above 85th percentile but below 95th percentile)
  • Normal or Healthy Weight (BMI above 5th percentile but below 85th percentile)
  • Underweight (BMI below 5th percentile)

Children who have obesity are at a higher risk of:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Breathing problems, such as asthma or sleep apnea, and
  • Having obesity as an adult
kids surrounded by fruits

Obesity Rates among WIC Children, Aged 2 – 4 Years

The WIC program provides nutritious food, education, and services to about 4 million children under the age of 5.  WIC’s services have been shown to have positive results in promoting healthy weight and nutritionally-balanced diets for its child participants.   According to the most recent State of Obesity Report published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, obesity among young children from low-income families has significantly declined nationally.  It is estimated that in 2014, 14.5% of 2- to 4-year-olds enrolled in the WIC program had obesity down from 15.9% in 2010 (about an 8% decline).  State obesity rates among children enrolled in WIC ranged from 8% to 20%.  

Tennessee WIC Program: Early Childhood Overweight and Obesity

little girl eating vegetables


In 2016, approximately 30% of participants were considered to be overweight or have obesity.  Nearly 1 in 6 children (15.1%) aged 2 to 4 years enrolled in Tennessee WIC had a BMI above the 95th percentile.  In general, higher obesity rates were noted for:

  • Boys vs. girls (15.3% and 14.8%, respectively)
  • 4-year olds (17.3%) compared with 2- and 3-year olds (15.7% and 12.7%, respectively)
  • White children (16.4%) compared with black children (11.4%) and children of other race (12.6%)

Rates exceeded 15% in 58 counties and ranged from 6 percent to nearly 25 percent.  Obesity prevalence also varied among regions.  Shelby county had the lowest obesity rate and Sullivan county had the highest obesity rate.  Since 2008, Tennessee WIC has seen a decline in obesity among child participants.  Across the state, 18 out of Tennessee’s 95 counties saw declines in obesity rates within the same time period.

This map highlights 2016 estimates of obesity among WIC children 2 to 4 years.


Tennessee WIC Obesity Rates by County, 2016

The table below contains county-level obesity estimates for Tennessee WIC children aged 2 to 4 years and trends from 2008 to 2016. 

Location WIC Children (N) WIC Children (%) Trend (2008 - 2016)


Tennessee monitors overweight and obesity rates among children enrolled in the WIC program.  All rates are calculated using the WIC Data System and is based on a similar methodology used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System (PedNSS), which was discontinued in 2012.

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