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Health Risks of Overweight Children

The increased rate of obesity means that obesity-related chronic diseases are becoming common among children and teenagers. Being overweight increases a child's risk for a number of diseases and conditions, including:

  • Asthma — A large number of children who are overweight have asthma.
  • Diabetes — Type 2 diabetes, formerly known as adult onset diabetes, has become increasingly prevalent among overweight children and adolescents. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that one in three American children born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime.
  • Gallstones — The incidence of gallstones is significantly higher in those who are obese.
  • Heart Disease — Early indicators of atherosclerosis — also known as hardening of the arteries — begin as early as childhood and adolescence in children with risk factors. Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of heart disease. It is related to high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which are associated with poor eating habits and overweight.
  • High Blood Pressure — Overweight children are more likely to have high blood pressure that can strain the heart.
  • Liver Problems — People who are obese are at higher risk for a liver problem called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which can lead to cirrhosis.
  • Menstrual Problems — Being overweight may cause a girl to reach puberty at an earlier age. Also, obesity may contribute to uterine fibroids or menstrual irregularities later in life.
  • Trouble Sleeping — Children who are overweight are at risk for obstructive sleep apnea, which is a serious, potentially life-threatening breathing disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. Over a long period of time, this can lead to heart failure.

Metabolic Syndrome

Between 25 percent and 40 percent of children who are overweight will have metabolic syndrome, which sets the stage for diabetes and heart problems. Metabolic syndrome includes:

  • Abnormal lipids
  • High blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance
  • Obesity

The good news is that the health problems associated with metabolic syndrome respond well to diet and exercise. When children lose weight — even modest amounts of weight — it can reverse the negative effects of metabolic syndrome.

Overweight for Life

Overweight children and adolescents are more likely to become overweight or obese adults. It is an extremely difficult cycle to break. An unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle are known risk factors for the three leading causes of death in adults: cancer, stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Although there are treatment options for overweight children, prevention is the key to combating the childhood obesity epidemic.

 

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.