Childhood obesity – causes, complaints & therapy

obesity stands for a pathological increase in body weight with multifactorial causes such as improper nutrition and a lack of exercise. The disease is one of the main health problems of this century as it leads to serious physical and psychological problems. The therapy is multidisciplinary and requires the contribution of the child and the environment.

Table of Contents

What is obesity?

Obesity refers to a pathologically increased percentage of body fat with possible health impairments. It occurs when the body absorbs more energy over a longer period than it breaks down. The BMI has established itself as an objective measure of body fat percentage. However, children do not use the same values ​​as adults, but age- and gender-specific BMI percentiles are used.


Many children consume too many sugary foods and drinks. These are not only consumed at the main meals, but also at several snacks spread throughout the day. The food industry supports this process in that excessive sugar and fat are added to products as flavor carriers and enhancers. The increased intake of animal protein, such as occurs in sausages and dairy products, also promotes weight gain.

Milk protein in particular increases the formation of an insulin-like growth factor in the body, which is responsible for fat storage and the formation of new fat cells. The second major cause of childhood obesity arises from a lack of exercise, triggered among other things by the excessive consumption of digital media. The parents have a special influence on the eating and exercise behavior of their children. They often maintain an obesity-promoting lifestyle, which is passed on to the children.

When to the doctor?

Children who have an excessive BMI appropriate to their age should be referred to a doctor. The weight of the child must be checked and compared with the age-appropriate specifications without a doctor. With heavy weight, this has a stressful effect on the organism and can lead to health problems in children.

If excessive sweating occurs during everyday movements or if the child quickly reaches its physical limits, a doctor should be consulted. Climbing stairs or participating in school sports should be easy. Onset of shortness of breath or shortness of breath must be checked by a doctor in order to clarify a life-threatening condition in good time. If children suffer from excessive blood pressure or rapid heartbeat, a visit to the doctor is necessary.

If the child vomits after eating or does not feel full after eating a normal meal, there is cause for concern. A doctor should be consulted if the legal guardians are unable to teach the child a normal and balanced eating behavior. If problems with the musculoskeletal system occur due to obesity, a doctor must be consulted. Anomalies of the body, muscle discomfort or pain during movement are to be examined. In order to avoid a risk to the child’s best interests, measures for recovery must be initiated.

Symptoms and course

Typical symptoms of obesity:

Children with obesity often develop high blood pressure. The sugar and fat metabolism changes, so that insulin resistance can occur at a very young age and, subsequently, type II diabetes mellitus. This development is favored by inflammatory reactions that take place in the adipose tissue due to obesity. In addition, there is a higher risk of cardiovascular disorders. The child’s musculoskeletal system also suffers from the weight load that can lead to joint complaints and malpositions. This consequential damage occurs much less often in children than in adults, but in extreme cases is even more drastic.

If there is no change in lifestyle, obese children in adulthood suffer from additional diseases. In addition, the disease and death rate is significantly higher than that of normal-weight peers. When obesity turns into obesity, changing eating habits is very difficult or impossible. In order to prevent this, the problem must be recognized and dealt with quickly. In addition to the physical symptoms obesity is characterized by psychological side effects. The ideal image embodied by the media and discrimination on the part of the environment lead to a lack of self-esteem, social isolation and depression.


The diagnosis is first made via a visual inspection. Parents or other people around the child notice the weight gain, after which an extensive diagnosis is made by the attending doctor. The determination of the BMI allows a classification of the severity of the obesity. In addition, a measurement of the skin fold thickness allows conclusions to be drawn about the body fat percentage. Ultrasound examinations also provide information, but are rarely required. Using markers in the body, the degree of inflammation of the adipose tissue can be determined, which indicates the progression of obesity.


Even in adults, obesity is not trivial. If it occurs as a child, it not only impairs healthy development, but can also lead to avoidable serious illnesses. As muscles, tendons, and joints develop, they are exposed to increased body weight loads in obese children and may develop incorrectly or unhealthily. Increased joint wear and problems like osteoarthritis or arthritis at a young age are very likely. Obese children also run the risk of developing an unhealthy cardiovascular system and struggling with heart problems at a young or middle age.

In addition, obesity in children, just like in adults, increases the risk of developing diabetes mellitus, developing atherosclerosis, fatty liver and gallstones, as well as experiences with gout. Due to the increased blood pressure, sleep attacks and heart attacks are not unlikely at a young age. Obesity also increases the risk of developing malignant tumor diseases, for example in the stomach or intestines. The decisive difference to adults in childhood obesity is that the first damage can occur in early adulthood. Affected children may have to live with life-long complications that they would not have had with normal body weight. At worst, these complications of obesity unnecessarily shorten your life by years or decades.

Treatment and therapy

Obesity is treated in a multi-professional team. Doctors treat the medical aspects of the disease, while dieticians create a nutritional plan and practice normal, self-controlled eating behavior with the child. This aims to reduce calories and foods that are high in fat and sugar.

In sports, a combination of strength and endurance training should be done to reduce weight, BMI and waist size. Strength training has a positive effect on fat distribution, reduces subcutaneous and total adipose tissue and thereby lowers body weight. Endurance sports improve the body’s response to insulin, so there is no resistance or type II diabetes mellitus.

The nutritional and exercise concept must be applied in the long term. Temporary changes in habits have a short-term effect, but they do not improve obesity in the long term. For optimal treatment success, parents, siblings and friends of the child must be actively involved in the therapy. Only with support In the environment, the child can change their habits and achieve permanent weight loss.


The best way to prevent childhood obesity is to teach parents a healthy lifestyle. Children are fundamentally open to a balanced diet, but they have to learn and be given an example from birth. Sport together with friends or in a sports club ensures that exercise is fun and at least temporarily replaces the use of digital media. The timely identification and minimization of risk factors prevents a large number of physical and psychological side effects and secondary diseases.


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Christina Cherry
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