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Is It Just Puppy Fat Or Is My Child Obese?

If your child is still fat around 14 yrs then it is most likely obesity as puppy fat will disappear. Excessive fat/ flab on arms, back and tummy, consistently high BMI, difficulty to engage in physical activity and parents being overweight could indicate childhood obesity. A healthy balanced diet, increase in physical activity and changing unhealthy habits can help.

Some children tend to be chubby as infants (or even later on during their pre-school or elementary school years) before they reach an age where a spurt of growth occurs and the puppy fat disappears.

The Perils Of Obesity

At the same time, studies have shown that indicators of obesity start appearing early on. People who are overweight as children are more likely to be overweight teenagers and subsequently more likely to be overweight adults. The longer the fat remains (the closer you get to adolescence), the tougher it gets to shed the fat [1].

Obesity comes with a whole list of complications. Overweight and obesity are associated with significantly increased risk of later cardio-metabolic morbidity (diabetes, hypertension, ischaemic heart disease, and stroke) in adult life; child and adolescent overweight and obesity are associated with significantly increased risk of later disability pension, asthma, and polycystic ovary syndrome symptoms [2].

Separating Puppy Fat From Obesity Is Tough

Given the risks associated with childhood obesity, it becomes rather critical for parents to be able to separate “puppy fat” from obesity. However, the line between “puppy fat” (which is normal and will disappear) and obesity (which is not normal and will not disappear) is rather thin.

The fact is – parents find it extremely difficult to be objective about their child’s weight. Studies have shown that very few parents perceive their children as overweight, even if the child’s weight is in the top 15 percentile among peers; parents get worried only if their child is extremely overweight (in the top 1 percentile of peers) [3]. Sometimes, a concern raised by the family doctor or the inability of the child to perform activities that are otherwise easily performed by children in the same age group can also ring a bell. However, in most cases, parents shrug off excess weight as “puppy fat”. Not taking timely action (because of ignorance or unwillingness to accept that their child could be overweight) leads to a considerable increase in risks associated with childhood and adult obesity.

Guidelines For Parents To Distinguish Obesity From Puppy Fat

Are there ways for parents to reach a more objective assessment of their child’s weight? Since weight tends to vary over time and every child’s growth curve is different, there is no simple, straight forward “Yes/No” kind of assessment. The following guidelines could be useful to assess if your child could be overweight or has puppy fat:

  1. If your child has excessive fat/ flab on arms, back and tummy, your child could be overweight. Puppy fat tends to be distributed uniformly “all over”.)
  2. If regular BMI checks reveal a consistent pattern of your child being in the top 15 – 25 percentile weight among peers, your child could be overweight.
  3. If you (parents of the child) are obese or have a history of obesity or weight problems, your child could be overweight too. If you are fit (which probably implies that you have a healthy lifestyle and diet) and never had a tendency towards weight gain (which probably means obesity is not in the genes either), its likely that your child’s fat is just “puppy fat”.
  4. If your child finds it difficult to engage in physical activity that is otherwise considered to be simple for his/ her age group, your child could be overweight. Puppy fat usually doesn’t hinder physical activity in any noticeable way.

Approaches To Help Overweight Children Lose Weight

If your child is overweight, some changes are in order – most likely not just for your child, but for you as well!

Improving the diet: Eating more fruit and vegetables, cutting out sugary soft drinks, eating a healthy breakfast and not having high-calorie snacks like biscuits or crisps between meals.

Increasing physical activity: Taking part in sports, going on family walks, cycling to school or reducing the amount of television your child watches.

Changing unhealthy habits: Setting goals for healthy eating and activity, tackling hard-to-change habits and helping your child have more self-confidence and feel better about themselves [4].


  1. Nader, Philip R., et al. “Identifying risk for obesity in early childhood.” Pediatrics 118.3 (2006): e594-e601.
  2. Reilly, J. J., and J. Kelly. “Long-term impact of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence on morbidity and premature mortality in adulthood: systematic review.” International journal of obesity 35.7 (2011): 891-898.
  3. Eckstein, Kathryn C., et al. “Parents’ perceptions of their child’s weight and health.” Pediatrics 117.3 (2006): 681-690.
  4. Weight Problems and Obesity in Children


Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.