How does childhood obesity work?

The Physical and Psychological Effects of Obesity

What if, on your third-grader's birthday, you cheered, "Happy 38th birthday, honey"? Seem like a stretch? According to Walt Larimore, M.D., an 8-year-old kid with high blood pressure (hypertension) is 38 when it comes to vascular health. He also says that 8-year-olds who have metabolic syndrome will find themselves with either heart disease or type 2 diabetes by the time they're 18 [source: Porter]. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of risk factors common to people who are overweight or obese. Some of these risk factors include a large waistline, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

Other physical complications associated with obesity include:

  • Heart disease brought on by high cholesterol, abdominal fat, high blood sugar and high blood pressure
  • Early puberty brought on by disrupted hormones
  • Sleep disorders

These physical complications are unfortunate enough, but childhood obesity has also been linked to social and emotional challenges. For example, obese children are apt to have low self-esteem, deal with depression and exhibit learning and behavior issues. This could be a result of, or compounded by, social stigma and bullying associated with their weight.

Childhood obesity appears to correlate with negative social consequences well into adulthood. University of Michigan epidemiologist Philippa Clarke found through a study of 5,000 high school graduates that being overweight is negatively tied to traditional evaluations of success. By categorizing the graduates into weight classes -- overweight since graduation or overweight over time since graduation -- and then revisiting their lives at 40, Clarke found that those who were chronically overweight at 19 had a 50 percent better chance of being single, without a job and on public assistance [source: Neighmond].

If you're concerned about your child's health, there's no time like the present to start you and your child down the path to a healthy life. After all, if you reverse Clarke's study, that means that those people who were of normal weight at 19 had a 50 percent better chance of having a life partner and employment.

On the next page: your first to-do item.