Childhood Obesity Causes & Consequences
Childhood obesity is a complex health issue. It occurs when a child is well above the normal or healthy weight for his or her age and height. The causes of excess weight gain in young people are similar to those in adults, including behavior and genetics. Obesity is also influenced by a person’s community as it can affect the ability to make healthy choices.
Behaviors that influence excess weight gain include eating high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and beverages, medication use and sleep routines. Not getting enough physical activity and spending too much time on sedentary activities such as watching television or other screen devices can lead to weight gain.
In contrast, consuming healthy foods and being physically active can help children grow and maintain a healthy weight. Balancing energy or calories consumed from foods and beverages with the calories burned through activity plays a role in preventing excess weight gain. In addition, eating healthy foods and being physically active helps to prevent chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and heart disease.
Use these resources to eat well and be active!
A healthy diet follows the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americansexternal icon.It emphasizes eating a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, a variety of lean protein foods, and low-fat and fat-free dairy products. It also recommends limiting foods and beverages with added sugars, solid fats, or sodium.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americansexternal icon recommends children aged 6 – 17 years do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Children aged 3 through 5 years should be physically active throughout the day for growth and development.
Learn more about Healthy Weight—Finding a Balance
It can be difficult to make healthy food choices and get enough physical activity in environments that do not support healthy habits. Places such as childcare centers, schools, or communities can affect diet and activity through the foods and drinks they offer and the opportunities for physical activity they provide. Other community factors include the affordability of healthy food options, peer and social supports, marketing and promotion, and policies that determine how a community is designed.
More Immediate Health Risks
- Obesity during childhood can harm the body in a variety of ways. Children who have obesity are more likely to have:(1-7)
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
- Increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
- Breathing problems, such as asthma and sleep apnea.
- Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort.
- Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux (i.e., heartburn).
Childhood obesity is also related to8-10:
- Psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
- Low self-esteem and lower self-reported quality of life.
- Social problems such as bullying and stigma.
Future Health Risks
- Children who have obesity are more likely to become adults with obesity.11 Adult obesity is associated with increased risk of several serious health conditions including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.12
- If children have obesity, their obesity and disease risk factors in adulthood are likely to be more severe.13
- Cote AT, Harris KC, Panagiotopoulos C, et al. Childhood obesity and cardiovascular dysfunction. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013;62(15):1309–1319.
- Lloyd LJ, Langley-Evans SC, McMullen S. Childhood obesity and risk of the adult metabolic syndrome: a systematic review. Int J Obes (Lond). 2012;36(1):1–11
- Bacha F, Gidding SS. Cardiac abnormalities in youth with obesity and type 2 diabetes. Curr Diab Rep. 2016;16(7):62. doi: 10.1007/s11892-016-0750-6.
- Mohanan S, Tapp H, McWilliams A, Dulin M. Obesity and asthma: pathophysiology and implications for diagnosis and management in primary care. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2014;239(11):1531–40.
- Narang I, Mathew JL. Childhood obesity and obstructive sleep apnea. J Nutr Metab. 2012; doi: 10.1155/2012/134202.
- Pollock NK. Childhood obesity, bone development, and cardiometabolic risk factors. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2015;410:52-63. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2015.03.016.
- Africa JA, Newton KP, Schwimmer JB. Lifestyle interventions including nutrition, exercise, and supplements for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in children. Dig Dis Sci. 2016;61(5):1375–1386.
- Morrison KM, Shin S, Tarnopolsky M, et al. Association of depression and health related quality of life with body composition in children and youth with obesity. Journal of Affective Disorders 2015;172:18–23.
- Halfon N, Kandyce L, Slusser W. Associations between obesity and comorbid mental health, developmental, and physical health conditions in a nationally representative sample of US children aged 10 to 17. Academic Pediatrics. 2013;13.1:6–13.
- Beck AR. Psychosocial aspects of obesity. NASN Sch Nurse. 2016;31(1):23–27.
- Gordon-Larsen P, The NS, Adair LS. Longitudinal trends in obesity in the United States from adolescence to the third decade of life. Obesity. 2010;18(9):1801-–804.
- Jensen MD, Ryan DH, Apovian CM, et al, for the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines; Obesity Society. 2013 AHA/ACC/TOS guideline for the management of overweight and obesity in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and The Obesity Society. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;63(25 Pt B):2985–3023. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2013.11.004.
- Bass R, Eneli I. Severe childhood obesity: an under-recognized and growing health problem. Postgrad Med J. 2015;91(1081):639-45. doi: 10.1136/postgradmedj-2014-133033.