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Genetic Causes of Obesity in Children

By Rachel Nall ; Updated July 18, 2017

An estimated 33 percent of American children are considered obese, according to Kids Health. Obesity is a danger to your child’s health, making her more prone to conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and depression. Although lifestyle habits such as overeating and inactivity contribute to childhood obesity, genetics also can play a factor.

Parental Obesity

Having a parent or parent who is obese is one of the strongest indicators a child will become obese, according to the Colorado State University Extension. Obesity is most commonly measured by determining body mass index. To calculate your body mass index, divide your weight by your height in inches squared. Take this result and multiply it by 703. If your body mass index is more than 30, you are considered obese, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. To minimize your child’s risk for obesity, discuss health tips and recommendations with your physician on how to help your child maintain a healthy weight. Your example is important to your child. Making healthy lifestyle choices yourself can help your child learn good habits early in life that he can carry with him into adulthood.

Endocrine Disorders

Although it's representative of a small population of childhood obesity cases, endocrine system disorders are associated with obesity. An example is Prader-Willi syndrome, which occurs from a chromosome 15 defect. Children who experience this condition experience excessive weight gain from age 12 to 18 months onward, according to The Merck Manuals. Children with the condition typically are extremely hungry and have a difficult time feeling satiated after a meal. If your child experiences unexplained weight gain, an endocrine disorder could be to blame.


A study published in the November 12, 2010 edition of the American Journal of Human Genetics, led by Joseph T. Glessner of the Center for Applied Genomics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, studied the genomic makeup of thousands of obese and lean children to determine whether any patterns could be found. Researchers found those with copy number variations, in which gene sequences are duplicated, are at a higher risk of obesity. Those of European American and African-American descent were found to have the most copy number variations.

It's Not Just Genetics

Although genetic factors can contribute to childhood obesity, these factors are rarely the sole contributor. Scientists note that genetic characteristics haven't changed since 1980, yet childhood obesity rates have tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although your child may be genetically predisposed to obesity, a commitment to a healthy lifestyle through physical activity and diet can help minimize genetic factors.

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