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Health risks of obesity - children


Obesity has become a serious health problem in children and teenagers. A child who is overweight or obese is more likely to be overweight or obese as an adult.

Obese children are now developing health problems that used to be seen only in adults. When these problems begin in childhood, they often become more severe when the child becomes an adult.

Having a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and eating well can reduce risks for obesity and the diseases related to it.

Health risks of obesity

Obese children are at risk for cardiovascular disease. Our cardiovascular system includes our heart and blood vessels. Cardiovascular conditions obese children are more likely to have are:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High cholesterol and triglycerides (dyslipidemia or blood fats)
  • Higher risk of heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes later in life

Some obese children are now being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. This condition used to be seen very rarely in children. Some issues related to type 2 diabetes in children are:

  • If weight loss, changes in diet, and exercise do not control it, children will need to take medicines to manage their diabetes.
  • Medical problems that are caused by diabetes, such as heart disease and kidney failure, are more likely to develop at a younger age.

Some other health risks of obesity in children and teenagers are:

  • Bone and joint problems -- These are more common because more weight puts pressure on the bones and joints. This can lead to osteoarthritis, a disease that causes joint pain and stiffness.
  • Breathing problems during sleep -- This can cause daytime sleepiness and poor attention, and it may lead to problems in school.
  • Asthma, gallstones, and liver problems are also more common in obese children.
  • Obese girls:
    • Are more likely to start puberty early.
    • May have irregular menstrual periods, which may lead to problems getting pregnant as adults.

Social effects of obesity

Obese children often have low self-esteem. They are more likely to be teased or bullied, and they may have a hard time making friends.

Overall, kids who are not happy with themselves are more likely to:

  • Be depressed
  • Be less active and get less exercise
  • Use alcohol and other illegal drugs
  • Develop eating disorders such as bulimia (bingeing and purging) or anorexia (refusing to eat)
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Review Date: 8/1/2012

Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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