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Obesity in Children and Adolescents

Medical Content Writer
Arzu Cetinkaya Medical Content Writer
Obesity in Children and Adolescents

Being very overweight can put young people under a lot of physical and emotional strain. Self-doubt, shame and discrimination by classmates (and possibly even by medical staff) are part of everyday life for many of them. Affected children and adolescents usually blame themselves for their high body weight. And around 70% believe that they alone are responsible for losing weight. But neither children nor adolescents who are overweight have to deal with their problems alone. There is medical help.

How does obesity develop in children and adolescents?

Children and adolescents in particular are not to blame for their body weight. Our body weight is initially influenced by genetic factors. Twin studies show that between 50% and 90% of severe obesity is due to hereditary factors. The risk of developing obesity begins even before birth: children who are overfed in the womb or who are not breastfed or are breastfed for a too short time after birth tend to be overweight. The social environment also plays a major role. Learned malnutrition and a lack of exercise opportunities favour the development of obesity. It is not without reason that experts observe the accumulation of obesity within a family. On top of this, there are the living conditions under which young people grow up today:

  • In general, many foods that children and adolescents eat are too fatty, too sweet, too salty – in other words, simply too highly processed. And if you eat too much and eat a lot of calories, you are very likely to put on weight.
  • Another reason is often the lack of exercise in children. In many schools, it has been observed that children and young people today generally have less interest in sport, regardless of media consumption. There is often a lack of space for sport and exercise. It is not uncommon for ball games to be banned during school breaks for safety reasons, swimming pools are dilapidated and numerous gymnastics and sports clubs have not survived the lockdowns.
  • Social background can also play a major role: Children and young people from socially disadvantaged families and children with a migration background have an increased risk of being overweight and obese. The same applies to students who attend a secondary school, special school or special needs school.
  • Obesity can also have psychological causes: Possible triggers are, for example, experiences of loss such as the divorce of parents, the death of a parent or sibling. But loneliness or a permanent feeling of being unloved can also lead to increased food intake becoming a substitute satisfaction.
  • In addition, certain diseases and medications can trigger obesity.

Many young people do not realise that they have obesity

Around one in four young people do not realise that they suffer from obesity. A third of parents are also unaware of this. Half of the parents hope that the young people will simply grow out of the illness. The good news is that the study shows that young people want to lose weight and improve their health. However, a third of them are reluctant to talk to their parents about it. Many seek advice on social media instead. At the same time, many parents don’t know how they can best support their children. The same applies to doctors: The vast majority (87%) of doctors surveyed in the study stated that they had not received any significant training or further training in dealing with obesity after their medical studies. If unrecognised and untreated, the chronic disease poses a major risk to health. Obesity can lead to a whole range of secondary diseases.

What are the consequences of obesity for children and adolescents?

Being overweight can lead to high blood pressure, fatty liver disease or sugar metabolism disorders even in adolescents. Overweight in childhood and adolescence can lead to many secondary diseases in adulthood. These include several types of cancer and problems with the bones and joints. Obesity is also very stressful for young people from a psychosocial point of view. What’s more, people who are very overweight at a young age also have a 70% risk of obesity in adulthood. A weight reduction of 5% to 10% can help to positively influence the quality of life and reduce the risk of comorbidities.

How is obesity treated in children and adolescents?

Treating adolescents with severe obesity is not easy.

Conventional methods of weight loss, such as dietary changes and exercise and behavioural programmes, often fail to deliver results in adolescents. Bariatric surgery is only possible in very rare cases due to the strict indications required.