Childhood and Youth Obesity: A Problem That’s Getting Worse


Read time: 5 minutes.

Obesity is a critical health crisis that has reached alarming levels in the general population, both nationally and globally. Unfortunately, the pandemic has exacerbated this issue, making it even more urgent to address. Obesity is not just a matter of appearance; it is linked to various severe health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Youth obesity, in particular, is a growing concern that demands immediate attention. Shockingly, one in five young people is now considered overweight or obese. The pandemic has had a significant impact on weight gain among children under 12 years old.

While individual responsibility plays a role in addressing obesity, it is crucial to recognize that societal choices and public policies also contribute to this crisis. Examining the issue more closely reveals its deep connection to social justice concerns such as economic inequality and racism.

Over the decades, youth obesity has steadily increased. In the early 1970s, only slightly over 10% of children and adolescents aged 2-19 were overweight, with just over 5% classified as obese. By 2020, as the pandemic unfolded, these numbers had significantly risen, with over 16% of youth being overweight. However, the most alarming change was observed in the obesity rates, which soared to almost 20%.

The consequences of youth obesity extend to both their present and future health. Experts highlight that being overweight is the primary reason why some children become victims of bullying. The emotional toll of struggling with weight is particularly detrimental to girls, who are more susceptible to mental health issues and also face challenges related to body image and eating disorders.

Obesity in both boys and girls is associated with numerous health problems. Higher body weight can lead to sleep difficulties, resulting in fatigue, irritability, and difficulties with concentration. Obese youth are more prone to orthopedic problems due to their growing bones and developing joints being more susceptible to damage. Diabetes, previously uncommon among young individuals, has now become a major concern for this population.

Obesity during childhood poses significant health risks in adulthood. A Swedish study revealed that adults who were obese as children were nearly three times more likely to experience premature death. Additionally, research from the Harvard School of Public Health found that girls who were obese at the age of 18 faced an increased risk of premature death, even in their young adult years. This risk was notably higher, even for moderately overweight girls.

Jerome Puryear

Dr. Jerome Puryear Jr., MD, MBA, is a Health and Well-being coach and renowned Obesity in Medicine expert. With a holistic perspective on patient care, Dr. JP is dedicated to helping individuals maximize their health and well-being.