Childhood Obesity Causes & Consequences


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.

A girl cooking a meal with her parents.

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 2020-2025 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.

See tips to help children maintain a healthy weight.

A family hiking on a trail

Community Environment

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.

Consequences of Obesity

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).
A family eating a healthy meal outdoors

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
Source: CDC

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