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A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop obesity with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of becoming obese. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for obesity include:

Poor Diet

The following dietary habits can increase your risk of obesity:

  • A diet of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods
  • Consuming more calories than you burn each day
  • Eating quickly, or when you feel full
  • Drinking high-calorie drinks, including sugar-sweetened soda or alcohol
  • High level of fast food intake

Children may also be at risk for becoming obese if they do not eat their regular meals with their family.

Lack of Physical Activity

If you don’t get enough physical activity you are likely to burn fewer calories than you eat each day, thus increasing your risk of becoming obese.

For children, too little exercise and spending too much time watching TV or playing on the computer can increase their risk of gaining weight and becoming obese.

Genetic Factors

Obesity may run in families. A combination of genetic and lifestyle factors are likely to a role in the child's excess weight.

In addition, rare hereditary diseases may increase the risk of obesity.

Medical Conditions and Medications

History of obesity as a child

Some medications, such as steroids and certain antipsychotics, can result in increased appetite and obesity

Certain hormonal imbalances, such as hypothyroid and Cushing’s disease, increase your risk of obesity

Polycystic ovary syndrome

Large birth weight

Maternal obesity during pregnancy

Psychologic factors

Harsh physical punishment or abuse during childhood. There is a higher incidence of obesity in adults who were raised in such environments.

Post-traumatic stress disorder. Women with PTSD are at increased risk of developing obesity.

Family and peer problems.

Low self-esteem.

Depression and other emotional problems.

Stressful life events or change.

Smoking cessation

If you are a smoker and want to quit, you may worry that quitting will increase your weight. Keep in mind that you can overcome this weight gain by reducing how many calories you consume and by exercising more. Overall, the health benefits of quitting smoking far exceed the risk of gaining weight.

If you are pregnant, smoking may increase your child's risk of becoming obese.

Other risk factors

Age

  • The incidence of obesity increases with age.
  • It more than doubles between the ages of 20 and 55. However, this may be related to a decrease in activity levels.
  • A recent study found that within 30 years, over half of a large group of normal-weight men and women became overweight.

Race or ethnic group

  • There is a higher incidence of obesity among certain races or ethnic groups.
  • In the US, obesity more African American women and Hispanic women than white women.
  • In US men, Hispanic men are most often affected.
  • For children, being African American, Hispanic, or Native American increases their risk of obesity.

Low socioeconomic status

Working shifts at different times of the day and night.

Inadequate Sleep

  • Not getting enough sleep may put children at risk for obesity.
  • How much sleep in enough for kids? Here are general recommendations:
    • Aged 5 years or younger—11 hours or more
    • 5-10 years—10 hours or more
    • 10 years or older—9 hours or more

References:

Explore Overweight and Obesity National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/obe. Updated July 13, 2012. Accessed February 23, 2017.

Manenschijn L, van Kruysbergen RG, de Jong FH, et al. Shift work at young age is associated with elevated long-term cortisol levels and body mass index. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011;96(110):1862-1865.

Obesity. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/nutritional-disorders/obesity-and-the-metabolic-syndrome/obesity. Update December 2016. Accessed February 23, 2017.

Obesity in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115009/Obesity-in-adults. Updated November 20, 2016. Accessed February 23, 2017.

Obesity in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115153/Obesity-in-children-and-adolescents. Updated January 30, 2017. Accessed February 23, 2017.

12/2/2008 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115009/Obesity-in-adults: Maruyama K, Ohira T, Maeda K, et al. The joint impact on being overweight of self reported behaviours of eating quickly and eating until full: cross sectional survey. BMJ. 2008;337.

9/25/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115153/Obesity-in-children-and-adolescents: Mizutani T, Suzuki K, Kondo N, Yamagata Z. Association of maternal lifestyles including smoking during pregnancy with childhood obesity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007;15:3133-3139.

6/25/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115153/Obesity-in-children-and-adolescents: Anderson SE, Whitaker RC. Household routines and obesity in US preschool-aged children. Pediatrics. 2010;125(3):420-428.

9/24/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115153/Obesity-in-children-and-adolescents: Semmler C, Ashcroft J, van Jaarsveld CH, Carnell S, Wardle J. Development of overweight in children in relation to parental weight and socioeconomic status. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009;17(4):814-820.

11/30/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115153/Obesity-in-children-and-adolescents: Madsen KA, Weedn AE, Crawford PB. Disparities in peaks, plateaus, and declines in prevalence of high BMI among adolescents. Pediatrics. 2010;126(3):434-442. Epub 2010 Aug 16.

3/6/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115009/Obesity-in-adults: Morenga TM, Mallard S, Mann J. Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies. BMJ. 2013;346:e7492.

8/20/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115009/Obesity-in-adults: Afifi TO, Mota N, Macmillan HL, et al. Harsh physical punishment in childhood and adult physical health. Pediatrics. 2013 Aug;132(2).

11/25/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115009/Obesity-in-adults: Kubzansky L, Bordelois P, et al. The weight of traumatic stress: A prospective study of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and weight status in women. JAMA Psychiatry; 2013 Nov 20.

12/14/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115009/Obesity-in-adults: Simmonds M, Burch J, et al. The use of measures of obesity in childhood for predicting obesity and the development of obesity-related diseases in adulthood: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Health Technol Assess. 2015 June; 19(43):1-336.



Last reviewed February 2017 by Michael Woods, MD FAAP

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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