Childhood Obesity

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

What are childhood obesity symptoms and signs?

Measurement of height and weight are the most commonly used tools to quickly evaluate the proportionality of children. These measurements allow calculation of the body mass index (BMI). It is important to consider the physique of the individual. While having a weight in excess of what would be expected for a certain height is most commonly a documentation of excessive fat tissue, certain individuals may be overmuscled (for example, weightlifters). With the exception of very rare bone diseases, the idea of an individual's excessive weight due to being "big boned" is an urban myth.

What are risk factors for childhood obesity?

There are several substantial risk factors for the development of pediatric obesity.

  1. Genetics: While several genetic syndromes are associated with obese stature (for example, Prader-Willi syndrome), genetics are not responsible for the obesity epidemic currently taking place. There has been no change in the gene pool over the last 30 years. Most recent studies indicate that if one parent is obese, the likelihood of having an obese child is three times higher than otherwise. If both parents are obese, the likelihood is 10 times higher.
  2. Social: Limited school athletic activities coupled with excessive time-utilizing social networks, TV, and computer games are a prime reason for pediatric obesity. Watching TV while eating a meal as well as the excessive consumption of takeout/fast food are also both risk factors for both pediatric and adult obesity. Recent studies indicate that only 20% of children experience more than two episodes of vigorous play per week, and 30% of these children watched more than two hours of TV per day. This does not include additional time engaging in computer games, texting, or talking on the phone with friends. Having a TV in the bedroom is a strong predictor of pediatric obesity.
  3. Cultural: Many societies follow either a healthier food palate (traditional oriental, Mediterranean, etc.) or eat smaller portions of higher-fat-content foods (European). The Americanization of such foods coupled with excessive portions is a prime cause of obesity.
  4. Diseases: Thyroid disease, polycystic ovary disease, brain tumors, mental retardation, and other conditions are a small contributor to the risk factors for obesity.
  5. Medications: Chronic oral steroids, some classes of antidepressants, and other drugs may also contribute (in a very small way) to pediatric obesity.
  6. Psychological: Many individuals overeat in an attempt to deal with emotionally stressful lifestyles. Often the excessive weight further aggravates their emotional turmoil.
  7. Increase in frequency of some cancers -- endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/29/2016
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