Childhood Obesity Causes and Effects

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The epidemic of obesity is a significant, chronic health problem and it is proving to be a major challenge to the adolescents in our society to face. Our society has been in a fast-paced change for the past thirty years, which has led to more economic growth, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, and a change in nutritional diets. This fast-paced change has led to the number of adolescents being diagnosed with obesity to quadruple. In America, over thirty percent of teens are being/are diagnosed as overweight or obese. Indiana alone has an alarming twenty-six percent of their teens diagnosed as overweight or obese. The physical, psychological, and social changes of adolescence also play a heavy influence on the development of obesity. What is obesity? How do you know if your adolescent is affected? What are the developmental outcomes of this disease? The purpose of this paper is to examine childhood obesity causes and effects.

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According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), obesity is defined as having ¬¬excess body fat; more specifically in teens, it can be distinguished by having a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for teens the same age and sex (“Defining Childhood Obesity | Overweight & Obesity | CDC”). BMI stands for Body Mass Index; is a measure of body fat that is this is typically calculated using height and weight of an adolescent. Configuring a body mass index is done by taking the weight and dividing it by height. If a BMI is above 25.0, it is considered to be overweight. Adolescent obesity means that it would be considered with individuals within the ages of ten and twenty-four. Adolescent obesity is the second largest preventable cause of death in the United States.

A puzzle is what some researchers might call obesity. It is not well-known has to how the body regulates weight and the distribution of body fat, which makes it difficult to find a true defining cause. Research has suggested that obesity is a result of a multitude of factors that work together exhibit the prevalence of obesity (Steinberg, 2017, p.34). Some of these factors include genetics and environmental choices.

There are many symptoms of adolescent obesity, but it is important to note as mentioned by Engeland (2004) that these symptoms could also correlate to other disease, so it is important to consult a physician for a clarifying diagnosis. Cali and Caprio (2008) note that “Many obese children and adolescents already manifest some metabolic complications such as impaired glucose regulation, hypertension, and fatty liver disease” (Cali and Caprio, 2008, p.33). Furthermore, Kelly et al. (2013) and the American Heart Association mentions that some symptoms or signs could be disproportionate facial features, weight gain, fat cells in the breast region in boys, large abdomen, puberty may occur early, and increase in fat cells in the upper arms and thighs. This signs and symptoms are seen in more than one-sixth of the adolescents in the United States.

However, Hruby and Hu (2015) noted that all of those symptoms have specific influential factors. The authors indicated that there is over sixty common genetic markers that have implied a significant susceptibility to obesity. Parental diet and lifestyle choices can also play a role in their offspring’s likelihood of developing obesity in adolescence. Steinberg (2017) also notes that prevalence of obesity is higher in the genetics of young Black, Latino, and Native American adolescents.

During adolescence there is an abundance of environmental factors such as physical, social, and psychological changes. One change that has a high impact on obesity is an adolescent’s diet. Too many adolescents are walking into the kitchen or grocery store and choosing to eat foods that are too high in caloric value or heavily processed. When reaching for something to drink, they are consuming beverages that contain too much sugar (Hruby & Hu,2015). This tendency to reach for the “junk” food interferes with the body’s ability to process these calories leading to weight gain because the body can not easily process the dense energy associated within “junk” food.

Lieb, Snow, and DeBoer (2009) conducted a study from the data collected in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to conclude that there is a strong correlational between adolescent obesity in household incomes below the poverty level, which follows up to the study by Hruby and Hu (2015) due to the fact that we can think that in poverty, adolescents are unable to seek the proper diet. Now, in this case sometimes we think of poverty as a lack of money to buy the healthier food options. So, it may be easier to go to the grocery store and purchase the $3 family size bag of potato chips than a bunch of bananas due to the cost discrepancy. This is due to the huge increase in the supply of food in the United States and the price-inflation that follows. Adolescents also become the victims to the advertising strategies of food companies; they are seen as “easy” targets to promote energy-dense, processed foods (Lieb, Snow, & DeBoer, 2009).

The most influential factor in adolescent obesity is from a lack of exercise or physical activity. Pietiläinen et al. (2008) conducted a study on twins to determine the role of physical activity versus inactivity in adolescents, where the study concluded that physical inactive in during adolescence increased in fatty cells. It is important to note that the study mentions that obese adolescents use up more of their energy in any physical activity because they do not have the proper amount of kind of energy in their bodies. This matches back to the issue of energy-dense food. Physical factors such as adolescents who have increase insulin levels or elevated blood pressure also play a role. It is important that adolescents meet the recommended amount of exercise for their age. If an adolescent’s time is spending sitting, watching television, and a lack of sleep also contributes weight gain. Too much weight gain from this lack of physical activity is what is causing the rate of obesity to quadruple.

If we do not take the signs, symptoms, and causes seriously there is the potential for some unwanted outcomes. The developmental outcomes can encompass medical, socioemotional, and academics. By the time an adolescent reaches the age of 17, they have already developed the potential for heart disease or hypertension (Reinehr, 2018). Adolescents also have the potential to develop diabetes, asthma, joint disease, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, liver disease, or even an increased risk of cancer. The medical outcomes associated with adolescent obesity are preventable, but often times these negative consequences continue throughout adulthood. Negative consequences in adulthood can lead to an almost double risk of mortality (Reinehr, 2018).

In addition to the medical concerns, there are social and emotional consequences to obesity during adolescence. Reinehr (2018) concluded that poor self-esteem, depression, negative mood states, eating disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Internet addiction can be a developmental outcome from obesity. Often times adolescents who suffer from obesity are the last to be picked in activities. The feeling of being left out can often be something that takes controls an adolescent’s mind; these thoughts can lead to the temptation to eat “their feelings” in foods that are energy dense. Low self-esteem can be caused by the social pressures of adolescence, including negatives comments and attitudes from their peers. It is necessary to find resources to support adolescents both socially and emotionally.

Sahoo et al. (2015) noted that academics can also suffer. Adolescents are four times as likely to miss school. This can be a reciprocal of chronic health conditions and self-esteem issues.

If we do not take a look at the causes of adolescent obesity and the outcomes, we are going to be looking at a very costly consequence of too many overweight adolescents. These adolescents will cost the nation nearly $250 billion dollars due to a decrease in productivity (Steinberg, 2017, p. 34) and we are going to see in a great deal of decline in both the mental and physical health of our adolescents.


In summary, reviewing the related literature, we are able to determine that obesity has numerous influential factors with the need to provide an adolescent with support to overcome this epidemic. Parents and families play a vital role in providing obese adolescents the support. The recommendations that follow show us how as families, we can help decrease the prevalence of obesity in our adolescents.

One recommendation would be to provide adolescents with a model example of nutritious meals. This recommendation is in response to a Hruby and Hu review, which proved that adolescents who suffer from obesity have deficiencies in their ability to choose healthy, energy-rich foods. As parent or family member with an obese adolescent some examples of how to model this would include providing meals that have lean protein, e.g. fish or steak and whole grains.

Another recommendation would be to remove all unhealthy, processed foods from the house. Placing the temptations outside of the home will help reduce the desire. Positive outcomes from this recommendation would allow for a better representation of what to eat to produce more energy in adolescents. It will also help in decision making for hungry adolescents because they will have knowledge of what is energy-rich versus energy-dense.

A third recommendation based on the findings of poor physical activity of adolescents with obesity by Pietiläinen et al. is to provide opportunities as a family to get at least sixty minutes of exercise daily. Family fitness would help decrease the excessive amounts of television watching, video gaming playing, and limited physical activity that are plaguing the adolescent aged generation (Steinberg, 2017, p.35). Since physical activity is low mainly due to society’s obsession with electronic media, it is best to suggest a variety of strategies to combat that. Some suggested strategies to combat limited physical activity include taking a bike ride together as a family, go on nightly walks, go to group yoga class, play Just Dance!, or go out and play sports together. There is the potential for a long list of positive outcomes for this recommendation. With family around, adolescents will have a sense of less embarrassment to try something new. Participating in physical activities can also strengthen family bonds which will benefit all involved.

The purpose of this review was to identify the signs, symptoms, causes, and developmental outcomes of obesity in adolescence. It is clear from the research reviewed that if an adolescent and their family are willing to make adjustments to diet and physical activity status, we can reduce the prevalence of obesity. It will not be an overnight change, but instead a long road of guidance and self-control. It is what needs to be done so that the obesity epidemic does not continue to increase at an alarming rate that ends up costing adolescent lives.


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  10. Reinehr, T. (2018). Long-term effects of adolescent obesity: time to act. Nature Reviews., 14(3), 183–188.
  11. Sahoo, K., Sahoo, B., Choudhury, A. K., Sofi, N. Y., Kumar, R., & Bhadoria, A. S. (2015). Childhood obesity: Causes and consequences. Retrieved from
  12. Steinberg, L. D. (2017). Adolescence(11th ed.). New York, NY : McGraw-Hill Education. 

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