Many factors — usually working in combination — increase your child's risk of becoming overweight:
- Diet. Regularly eating high-calorie foods, such as fast foods, baked goods and vending machine snacks, can easily cause your child to gain weight. Loading up on soft drinks containing sugar, candy and desserts also can cause weight gain. Foods and beverages like these are high in sugar, fat and calories.
- Lack of exercise. Children who don't exercise much are more likely to gain weight because they don't burn calories through physical activity. Inactive leisure activities, such as watching television or playing video games, contribute to the problem.
- Family history. If your child comes from a family of overweight people, he or she may be more likely to put on excess weight, especially in an environment where high-calorie food is always available and physical activity isn't encouraged.
- Psychological factors. Some children overeat to cope with problems or to deal with emotions, such as stress, or to fight boredom. Their parents may have similar tendencies.
- Family factors. If many of the groceries you buy are convenience foods, such as cookies, chips and other high-calorie items, this can contribute to your child's weight gain. If you can control your child's access to high-calorie foods, you may be able to help your child lose weight.
- Socioeconomic factors. Foods that won't spoil quickly, such as frozen meals, crackers and cookies often contain a lot of salt and fats. These foods are often less expensive or an easier option than fresher, healthier foods.
Childhood obesity can have complications for the physical, social and emotional well-being of your child.
- Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes in children is a chronic condition that affects the way your child's body metabolizes sugar (glucose). Type 2 diabetes is caused in part by a poor diet, and can often be reversed by eating healthier foods and exercising.
- Metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome isn't a disease itself, but a cluster of conditions that can put your child at risk of developing heart disease, diabetes or other health problems. This cluster of conditions includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and excess abdominal fat.
- High cholesterol and high blood pressure. Your child can develop high blood pressure or high cholesterol if he or she eats a poor diet. These factors can contribute to the buildup of plaques in the arteries. These plaques can cause arteries to narrow and harden, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke later in life.
- Asthma and other breathing problems. The extra weight on your child's body can cause problems with the development and health of your child's lungs, leading to asthma or other breathing problems.
- Sleep disorders. Sleep apnea, a condition in which your child may snore or have abnormal breathing when he or she sleeps, can be a complication of childhood obesity. Pay attention to breathing problems your child may have while sleeping.
- Early puberty or menstruation. Being obese can create hormone imbalances for your child. These imbalances can cause puberty to start earlier than expected.
Social and emotional complications
- Low self-esteem and bullying. Children often tease or bully their overweight peers, who suffer a loss of self-esteem and an increased risk of depression as a result.
- Behavior and learning problems. Overweight children tend to have more anxiety and poorer social skills than normal-weight children have. At one extreme, these problems may lead overweight children to act out and disrupt their classrooms. At the other, they may cause overweight children to socially withdraw. Stress and anxiety also interfere with learning. School-related anxiety can create a vicious cycle in which ever-growing worry fuels ever-declining academic performance.
- Depression. Low self-esteem can create overwhelming feelings of hopelessness in some overweight children. When children lose hope that their lives will improve, they may become depressed. A depressed child may lose interest in normal activities, sleep more than usual or cry a lot. Some depressed children hide their sadness and appear emotionally flat instead. Either way, depression is as serious in children as in adults. If you think your child is depressed, talk with him or her and share your concerns with his or her doctor.