What Kind of Hormonal Imbalances Cause Weight Gain in Adolescent Girls?

Adolescent girls in the United States often struggle with weight gain. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that between 2009 and 2010, 14.7 percent of non-Hispanic white girls, 18.6 percent of Mexican-American girls and 24.8 percent of non-Hispanic black girls between the ages of 12 and 19 were obese 1. In addition to such factors as genetics, eating and exercise habits, hormonal influences can influence weight gain among teen girls.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is such a common problem that 1 out of 10 women have PCOS, according to the Center for Young Women’s Health 2. In addition to weight gain, this hormone imbalance causes irregular periods, hair growth and acne. Typically, it appears during the teens. PCOS results from an imbalance of hormones in the brain and ovaries, which results in excess production of testosterone and an imbalance in insulin production. Although it cannot be cured, medication, exercise and diet may help. Speak to your teen’s pediatrician if you have any concerns.


The thyroid, a small butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, manufactures hormones that control metabolism and growth. When the thyroid produces too much or too little thyroid hormone, it can affect weight gain. Hyperthyroidism causes the metabolism to speed up, but low thyroid hormone production -- called hypothyroidism -- results in a slow-down of metabolism that can cause weight gain. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in teens. Speak to your teen’s pediatrician if you have any concerns.

Prader-Willi Syndrome

Prader-Willi syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that is present at birth, and it can affect weight in teens as well as in children 4. The disease creates a desire to eat constantly, and it is difficult to manage because of the severe food cravings. In addition, Prader-Willi syndrome is characterized by hypogonadism, a condition in which the ovaries produce inadequate or no sex hormones 4. Girls with Prader-Willi syndrome are likely to have underdeveloped sex organs, delayed puberty and infertility, as well as obesity 4. Prader-Willi syndrome cannot be cured, but is managed with human growth hormone, sex hormones, diet and other remedies 4. Speak to your teen’s pediatrician if you have any concerns.


Stress affects the body in different ways, but the three typical patterns are fight, flight and defeat, according to the article, "Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight" on the website of the University of New Mexico 5. Each pattern results in the secretion of different hormones. The defeat pattern creates a hormonal cascade that begins in the hypothalamus of the brain, and eventually results in secretion of cortisol from the adrenal glands in the kidneys. Cortisol regulates energy production and mobilization by selecting fat, protein or carbohydrate from the body’s organs. When cortisol production is high, it creates cravings for sugar and fat, increases appetite and can cause weight gain. Aerobic exercise, meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation and visualization are often effective methods of managing stress.