Health Effects of Childhood Obesity


Lt Col Reynolds
Childhood obesity is associated with a number of health problems. Some health effects are apparent during childhood, while others take more time to develop and don’t show up until adulthood. Dr. Bethea, can you tell us about some of the consequences of childhood obesity?

Dr. Bethea
Well, Dr. Reynolds, childhood obesity can affect many different parts of the body, and these health effects can have a negative impact on a child’s quality of life. Some medical problems that result from obesity can last a lifetime, while others are reversible with weight loss and lifestyle changes.

Children with obesity are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. These are both risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which could lead to heart attack, heart failure, or stroke later in life. Some studies have suggested that up to 70 percent of obese children have at least one of these risk factors, and over a third have at least two risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Obese children are also more likely to develop impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. These conditions, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can lead to serious medical problems during adulthood.

Obesity can also affect the liver and the gall bladder. These organs help process and break down fats from food. Remember, obesity means having too much body fat. Excess fat can attach itself to the liver, which results in fatty liver disease. While most people with fatty liver disease have no symptoms, for some the disease can be so severe that the liver eventually becomes scarred enough that it goes into failure. Obesity increases this risk.

Likewise, excess fat can make the gall bladder’s job harder. The gall bladder contains bile, which breaks down cholesterol sent from the liver. When there’s too much cholesterol going into the gall bladder, gallstones are formed. Most people with gallstones have to have their gall bladder removed.

Obesity can also affect the bones and joints. Extra weight means extra pressure on a child’s bones and joints. Children with joint and bone problems may feel pain or discomfort doing normal physical activities like playing sports or climbing on the jungle gym.

Children with obesity may also struggle with physical activities because of breathing problems. Obesity is often associated with shortness of breath and asthma. Sleep apnea, which can cause disordered sleep patterns or restlessness, is another breathing problem linked to obesity.

Remember, it’s not too late to reverse some of these conditions. With a good weight loss program and positive lifestyle changes, children who have battled obesity can live a full and healthy life. Talk to your healthcare provider for suggestions about the positive lifestyle changes you and your child can make.