Is obesity hereditary?

I’m a kid who’s slightly overweight. My mom says I’ll stretch out as I get taller (she’s obese). Will I?

More and more children in this country are overweight. Some – particularly those who stay overweight through adolescence – will end up as overweight adults. The health risks of obesity in adulthood are well known, as is the tendency for obesity to be a chronic and difficult-to-treat problem in adults.

What causes obesity? Our best understanding of the problem is that it’s a combination of both genetics and environment. Some children from obese families gain weight easily, no matter what they do. But, overweight children also do eat more and exercise less, and they gain more weight than they need to for their age. “Gland problems” as a cause of childhood obesity are rare.

An overweight child should see her/his pediatrician, who can plot the child’s height and weight on a standard growth chart, review the child’s pattern of growth over time, and counsel regarding healthy food choices and physical activity. Highly restrictive diets are not appropriate for growing children; a well-balanced diet with foods from all the major food groups is recommended. Many children ingest excessive numbers of calories in sodas, juice, milk and high-fat snack foods, when water and healthier snack foods would be more appropriate. Furthermore, many children are sedentary in their free time, choosing television and video games over running and playing. Not surprisingly, television watching has been associated with greater weight gain; the more hours watched, the more pounds are gained.

Overweight children who are motivated to address their weight problem, and who have supportive families, are more likely to be successful in maintaining a normal weight than overweight adults. Their eating and exercise behaviors haven’t had as many years to become ingrained.

Since you are a child of an overweight parent, I would regard you at high risk of continuing to be overweight. You would benefit from a visit to your pediatrician for evaluation. Perhaps you and your mother can address the issue as a team!

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