The Causes of Childhood Obesity, its Impact on Their Health and Why Exercise is Important

The world is experiencing fast epidemiological and nutritional changes distinguished by nutritional deficiencies such as iron and zinc deficiencies. There is a gradual increase in the widespread presence of obesity, diabetes and other nutrition related chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Excessive cases of childhood obesity have been recognised in developed countries. 

There has been an increase in obesity rates in children in the past 40 years and evidence shows that childhood obesity is a critical factor for developing type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Childhood obesity is one of the most consequential public health ultimatums of the 21st century. Studies say that in 2010, the number of overweight children under the age of five was approximately over 42 million. 

What is Obesity?

Obesity can be described as an overabundance of body fat. There is no agreement on a cut-off point for additional fatness for obese/overweight children and adolescents. 

While body mass index (BMI) can be used as an appropriate measure for adults, it may not be beneficial in children due to their growing and changing body shape. BMI is known to be unable to differentiate between fat and fat-free mass such as muscle and bone which may overemaphasise obesity in muscular children.

The Causes & Consequences of Childhood Obesity

It is known that a rise in obesity levels is due to an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure. Despite this, evidence indicates that an individual’s genetic makeup is important in determining the risk of obesity. The impact of risk factors such as dietary intake, physical activity, sedentary behaviour and family characteristics (parenting style and lifestyles) also play a critical role in the development of childhood obesity. 

The following are some of the main causes for childhood obesity:

  • Sugary beverages
  • Large portion size
  • Physical inactivity
  • Environmental factors e.g. regional/remote geographical location
  • Sociocultural factors e.g. using food as a reward
  • Family factors e.g. type of food in the house, parent lifestyle
  • Psychological factors e.g depression, anxiety

The following are some of the main consequences as a result of childhood obesity:

  • Body dissatisfaction e.g. low self-esteem, negative body image
  • Eating disorder symptoms
  • Emotional problems
  • Medical consequences e.g. fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, asthma, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease
  • Socioemotional consequences e.g. bullying about weight, discrimination, negative stereotypes
  • Academic consequences e.g. decrease in school performance due to skipping class especially for those with chronic health conditions (diabetes)

How does exercise help with obesity?

Regular exercise plays a part in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. A weight loss of 5-10% provides significant health benefits including a decrease in the risk of developing a chronic disease. 

Individuals who are are overweight or obese may experience chronic muscle pain, joint paint and/or have decreased range of motion making it hard to perform everyday activities. This needs to be considered before starting an exercise program. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist is best suited to assist individuals with obesity as they prescribe exercise suited to the individual, their medical history and their schedule. 


A combined healthy diet, regular physical activity and a healthier home lifestyle is an effective way to start preventing childhood obesity. What children learn about healthy eating and exercise will eventually transfer into other aspects of their lives.


Exercise Right. 2022. How exercise can help safely tackle obesity. [online] Available at: <> 

Sahoo, K., Sahoo, B., Choudhury, A., Sofi, N., Kumar, R. and Bhadoria, A., 2015. Childhood Obesity: Causes and Consequences. [online] Available at: <>