Childhood Obesity: Causes, Effects & Prevention

The most common chronic disease among American children today is obesity. Occurring when a child’s body mass index (BMI)-for-age percentile is 95 or higher, obesity is a serious problem among kids and teenagers leaves them vulnerable to a wide range of health risks.

Causes of Childhood Obesity

Several factors can contribute to childhood obesity, the two biggest of which are a lack of physical activity and a high-calorie diet. For some children, the causes of obesity are more complex and involve factors such as:


Certain genetic factors can increase a person’s risk of becoming obese. If close family members of a child are overweight or obese, he or she is more likely to experience issues with weight. In rare cases, hormone disorders can cause weight gain.


Socioeconomic status can unfortunately influence a child’s risk of becoming obese. For instance, daycares and schools in low-income areas may have fewer healthy food options and opportunities for physical activity. Limited access to safe playgrounds and parks, as well as difficulty affording fresh produce and healthy food items, can also adversely affect children in low-income families.


If a child’s friends or family members make poor dietary choices or lead unhealthy lifestyles, he or she is more likely to do the same.

Popular Culture

Advertisements for fast food restaurants and junk foods on television, social media platforms and websites can encourage kids to consume large portions of high-calorie foods and beverages.

Effects of Childhood Obesity

The effects of childhood obesity are alarming and far-reaching. Obese children are 70% more likely to be obese in adulthood than kids and teens at a healthy weight. Obese children also have a higher risk of experiencing serious medical problems like:

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease that disrupts how the body uses sugar for fuel. Having a poor diet and a lack of physical activity can lead to type 2 diabetes.

Joint Pain

Carrying excess weight places undue strain on a child’s joints and can lead to knee pain, hip pain and other uncomfortable musculoskeletal issues.

Breathing Issues

Overweight and obese children are at an increased risk of developing asthma as well as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—a potentially dangerous sleep disorder in which a person repeatedly pauses breathing overnight.

High Cholesterol and Heart Disease

Many people are surprised to learn that children can have high cholesterol and be vulnerable to heart disease. As is the case with adults, kids and teens who frequently eat fatty foods can have elevated cholesterol levels and plaque accumulation in their arteries.

High Blood Pressure

As much as 25% of obese children have high blood pressure (hypertension)—a dangerous condition in which the force of blood against the walls of the arteries is too high.

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Irreversible scarring and liver damage can result from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This condition occurs when fatty deposits accumulate in the liver, and it usually does not cause noticeable symptoms.

The effects of obesity on a child can be far more than physical. Overweight or obese children can face mental, social and emotional challenges related to bullying or a lack of self-esteem.

Childhood Obesity Prevention

It is clear that preventing obesity is key to a child’s overall health. If you are a parent or guardian who would like to reduce your child’s risk of obesity, be sure to share any concerns you have with your family physician and encourage everyone in your household to make healthy choices. Most notably:

Get Active

The CDC recommends about one hour of physical activity every day for children ages 6 through 17. These activities should be enjoyable and varied—not harsh or miserable. For example, encourage your child to play outside with friends, join an athletic team or splash around in the community pool.

Prioritize Nutrition

Rather than promoting diet culture, encourage your entire family to eat tasty, nutritious foods and drink more water. Adults and children should consume plenty of nutrient-dense foods—including lean proteins, vegetables, fresh fruit, low-fat dairy products and whole grains—while limiting the consumption of things like:

  • Soda
  • Cookies, cake, ice cream and other sweets
  • Sugary cereal
  • Juices with added sugar
  • Processed foods, including many pre-packaged snacks
  • Greasy, fatty proteins, such as fast-food hamburgers
  • White carbohydrates like white bread and potato chips

We Can Help

Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health is home to experienced family medicine physicians and pediatricians who help patients of all ages enjoy healthy lifestyles and achieve their best well-being. If you would like to make an appointment for your child, contact our friendly team at (813) 528-4898 or request an appointment on our website.

Meet Alyssa Zwarych, MD

Dr. Alyssa Zwarych is a board-certified pediatrician and valued member of the Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health team. Practicing at our Wiregrass location, she has a special interest in pediatric preventive healthcare and helping kids stay healthy and happy. While at home, Dr. Zwarych enjoys hiking and spending time with her family and rescue greyhounds.



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