How Can Being Obese As a Child Affect Weight As an Adult?

By Jan Sheehan
John Lund/Annabelle Breakey/Blend Images/Getty Images

Childhood obesity is epidemic in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of kids ages 6 to 11 who were obese ballooned from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2010, while the percentage of teens who were overweight or obese increased from 5 percent to 18 percent over the same 20 years. Research suggests that obesity during childhood can impact a person’s weight and health as an adult.

Childhood Obesity

Not all big kids are obese. Some are heavy for their age due to large body frames, notes Childhood obesity occurs when excess fat causes a child’s weight to be well above the average for his age and height. Although genetics play a role in childhood obesity, the problem is mostly related to lack of exercise and poor food choices among America’s youth. Your child's pediatrician or your family doctor can help determine whether your child is too heavy.

Adult Weight Consequences

Children who become obese by age 2 are more likely to end up obese as adults, according to a 2005 study reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Study author David Freedman says that of the children who had a body-mass-index in the 95th percentile, which 18 percent of American children have, about two-thirds grew up to be obese as adults. Chubby babies may not grow up to be obese adults, but chubbiness in later stages of childhood is a more accurate predictor of obesity in adulthood.

Adult Health Consequences

Because overweight kids are at high risk of becoming obese adults, they’re more at risk for adult heart disease, sleep apnea and certain cancers, as well as joint disease, writes Dr. Rebecca Sharim Storace on the ABC News website. A review of studies published in the February 1998 issue of The Journal of Nutrition found that men who were obese as adolescents were more likely to die from colon cancer and heart disease than were men not overweight in their younger years. Another study published in 2012 in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that childhood and adolescent obesity increases the risk of premature death as an adult.


Because children tend to pick up the eating and lifestyle patterns of their parents, being a good role model can help prevent childhood obesity that may affect your child’s weight as an adult. The Mayo Clinic website notes that children raised in a home where high-calorie food is frequently eaten and physical activity isn’t encouraged are more likely put on excess weight during the early years that may follow them into adulthood. Limit recreational computer and TV time to 2 hours a day, buy fruits and vegetables rather than junk food, try to sit down as a family for meals and find fun physical activities the whole family can do together. Give your child a healthy start for a healthy and happy adult life.

About the Author

Jan Sheehan is an award-winning medical and nutrition writer, having entered journalism in 1992. She is a former contributing editor for "Parents" magazine. She has also written nutrition articles for "Self," "Fitness," "Ladies' Home Journal," "Health" and other magazines. Sheehan has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Purdue University.