Are those extra pounds little Johnny is carrying just a little baby fat, or are they indicative of a more serious problem? The startling truth is that in America nearly one child in five is obese or overweight.

Childhood obesity – when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height – is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents. The condition is particularly problematic because it often starts kids on the path to health problems that were once confined to adults: diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The primary cause of childhood obesity is simple. Children are taking in too many calories and not burning off enough. Other causes may include:

  • Genetics. A child coming from a family of overweight people may be genetically predisposed to putting on excess weight. The problem is compounded when there is a family lifestyle of low activity and a household with an abundance of high-calorie food on hand.
  • Psychological factors. Some children overeat to cope with stress or boredom. Often they are following a pattern set by parents who use food as a coping mechanism.
  • Socioeconomic factors. Children from low-income families have a higher tendency for obesity because high-calorie, fatty foods are more easily available and cost much less than healthier options. Also, many lower-income neighborhoods do not have stores that carry fresh produce.
  • Regardless of the cause of the weight problem, it is vital to the child’s well-being to shed those extra pounds. In addition to health problems, obesity can lead to social problems due to bullying and teasing by peers, behavior and learning problems, and depression.

    Treatment will vary depending on the child’s age, the severity of the weight problem, and whether or not there are other medical conditions present.

    In most cases, treatment is as simple as reducing the number of calories consumed each day and increasing the level of activity.

    If you have concerns about your child’s weight, consult with your health care provider.