By Elizabeth Halvorson, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Brenner Children’s Hospital, Wake Forest School of Medicine

Childhood obesity remains a major health concern. More than 30 percent of children in the United States are overweight or obese, which puts them at risk for a multitude of health problems.

You may already be aware that childhood obesity can impact your child’s health as an adult, putting him or her at higher risk for conditions like heart disease and adult obesity down the road. You probably have also been made aware that obesity can cause your child to develop classically adult health problems while he or she is still in childhood. These can include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, liver disease and gallstones. But did you know that there are a number of other childhood conditions related to obesity? These include:

  • Headaches—These can be more frequent and severe in children with obesity, both from common causes such as migraine and less common causes like pseudotumor cerebri.
  • Dental cavities—Obesity can change the timing of tooth eruption and properties of saliva, which predispose a child to cavities.
  • Sleep problems—Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSA), in which a child has prominent snoring and pauses in breathing while sleeping, is more common in children with obesity. Children with OSA commonly present with inattention and ADHD type symptoms, rather than with daytime sleepiness.
  • Respiratory difficulties—Asthma tends to be both more common and more severe in children with obesity.
  • Musculoskeletal problems—Children with obesity often develop low-back pain or may limp. This can be due to a variety of conditions, including Blount disease, flatfoot, osteoarthritis, slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE), spondylolisthesis, and/or lordosis.
  • Reproductive problems—Adolescent girls who are obese may experience polycystic ovary syndrome, which causes irregular periods, increased acne, increased/abnormal hair growth and later fertility issues.
  • Psychosocial issues—A struggle with obesity can lead a child to experience a lower quality of life, bullying, social stigma, anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

The good news is that these risks can be reduced with weight loss. Even a modest loss of 5 percent to 10 percent of your child’s body weight (or weight maintenance in a child who is growing taller) can lower the risk of coexisting conditions.

Weight loss in children can often be achieved through small lifestyle changes. The most effective changes are those that incorporate well into your family’s existing lifestyle, rather than those that require a complete overhaul of your routine. Consider modifications like: cooking at home, eating meals together as a family, decreasing screen time, and swapping out sodas and sugary beverages for water.

If you need additional weight-loss tips, screening for some of the conditions discussed above or treatment strategies for your child’s existing conditions, talk to your child’s pediatrician to go over the best course of action.

For more information or to make an appointment with one of our experts, please visit or call 336-716-WAKE.

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