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Almost 1 in 3 American kids is considered overweight or obese, based on a measure of their age, height, and weight called body mass index (BMI). Genetics are linked to a child’s size and shape, but so is behavior. Too much of the wrong kinds of food and too little physical activity can play a big part. Obesity can lead to many kinds of health problems, so work with your pediatrician to make sure your child stays a healthy weight.

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High Blood Pressure

Just like in adults, obesity can cause this in children as well. It also can be a sign of kidney or heart problems. There are no symptoms, so pediatricians say a blood pressure check should be part of the yearly exam. If it isn’t treated, high blood pressure can set your child up for many health problems down the road, like heart issues or a stroke. Most of the time, you can control it through weight loss, exercise, and cutting back on salt.

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High Cholesterol

Everyone needs cholesterol for healthy cells and nerves. But too much can build up and start to clog your arteries. The damage can start in childhood and get worse over time. High cholesterol is often caused by bad eating habits. It’s also more likely if your child has diabetes or if high cholesterol runs in the family. Pediatricians say all kids should have their cholesterol tested between ages 9 and 11.

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Type 2 Diabetes

This used to be called “adult-onset” diabetes, but it’s showing up in more and more kids. And again, childhood obesity may be a reason. Being overweight affects the way your body turns food into fuel. Over time, you can have too much sugar in your blood sugar levels, and that can cause cell and organ damage all over your body. Kids can get their blood sugar under control by eating healthy food and exercising regularly.

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Fatty Liver Disease

Childhood obesity also may be linked to the rise in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease among children. Like type 2 diabetes, this condition is related to problems with the way your body handles blood sugar. If too much fat builds up inside your liver, that can lead to swelling and scarring. Getting to a healthy weight through diet and physical activity can help keep this from happening.

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In children, these tiny, hard stones that form in the gallbladder are usually a side effect of certain blood disorders, like sickle cell disease. But obesity can make a child more likely to get them. Gallstones cause belly pain that may be worse after eating. They can be dangerous if they block the ducts that send fluid into the intestines. Call your child’s doctor if they have this kind of pain along with nausea, fever, or a yellowish tint to their skin or eyes.

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Sleep Apnea

Being obese can make your child snore or even briefly stop breathing throughout the night, but the main cause of sleep apnea in children is large tonsils. When that’s the case, surgery to take them out usually fixes it. Otherwise, your child may need to lose weight or use a breathing machine.

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Kidney Stones

When a child gets these hard clumps of minerals, it’s usually because of an illness or a problem in their urinary tract. Stones can also form if they don’t drink enough and the concentration of minerals in their urine gets too high. A kidney stone can be very painful and can cause serious problems if it blocks the flow of urine. Small stones usually pass on their own, but large ones may have to be broken up or taken out.

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If your child had chickenpox or got the vaccine for it, they could get shingles. The virus that causes both diseases hides in your nervous system and can attack when your immune system is weak. Shingles appears as a blistery rash that hurts and itches. It’s usually in a stripe around one side of the body and scabs over in about a week. Shingles in children tends to be mild.

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Mental Illness

Some mental disorders are typically diagnosed in childhood, including ADHD and autism. But many other types can start when you’re a kid, too, like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Your pediatrician can help decide if your child should see a specialist.

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This is when blood flow gets cut off to a part of your brain. While it’s much more common in older people, it can happen at any age. In children, it’s usually caused by a health problem. For example, sickle cell disease can narrow arteries in the brain and make them more likely to be blocked by a blood clot. Other conditions, including clotting disorders and problems in the heart or blood vessels, can raise a child’s chances. Children typically get over a stroke easier than adults.

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Stiff, achy joints often come with the normal wear and tear of aging. But children can have them, too. They’re usually caused by an autoimmune problem, meaning the body’s own defenses attack healthy tissue and cause inflammation. But obesity also can make a child more likely to have arthritis and other joint problems. Carrying around extra weight puts stress on joints and can damage the growth plates that help control the length and shape of your child’s bones.

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The loss of bone mass common in older women can sometimes appear in children. It can be a side effect of an illness or of a medication like steroids or cancer drugs. It also can happen if your child doesn’t get enough calcium or vitamin D, or if they can’t be physically active. In cases with no clear cause, children may simply grow out of it. A child with osteoporosis may have pain when they walk, or their bones may break more easily.

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Some children are born with problems in their eyes that keep fluid from draining. That causes a dangerous buildup of pressure inside the eye. You may notice your baby is sensitive to light or has an unusual amount of tears. Their eyes might look enlarged or cloudy. Childhood glaucoma is treated with medication or surgery to keep the optic nerve from being damaged and protect their vision.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 01/16/2020 Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on January 16, 2020

CDC: “Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity Among Children and Adolescents: United States, 1963-1965 Through 2013-2014,” “Childhood Obesity Causes & Consequences,” “Prevent Type 2 Diabetes in Kids,“ “Shingles (Herpes Zoster.)”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Screening & Treating Kids for High Blood Pressure: AAP Report Explained,” “Cholesterol Levels in Children and Adolescents.”

American Heart Association: “High Blood Pressure in Children.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Cholesterol and Your Child.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Prediabetes & Insulin Resistance,” “Kidney Stones in Children.”

American Diabetes Association: “Facts About Type 2.”

Children’s Liver Disease Foundation: “Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.”

Contemporary Pediatrics: “Pediatric nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.”

Medscape: “Pediatric Gallstones,” “Childhood Sleep Apnea,” “Pediatric Osteoporosis.”

North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition: “Gallstones.”

American Family Physician: “Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children.”

American Sleep Apnea Association: “Children’s Sleep Apnea.”

UpToDate: “Patient education: Kidney stones in children (Beyond the Basics.)”

The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal: “Herpes Zoster in Otherwise Healthy Children."

National Institute of Mental Health: “Treatment of Children with Mental Illness.”

American Stroke Association: “Pediatric Stroke.”

National Stroke Association: “Pediatric Stroke.”

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “Juvenile Arthritis,” “Juvenile Osteoporosis.”

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “The Impact of Childhood Obesity on Bone, Joint and Muscle Health.”

Glaucoma Research Foundation: “Childhood Glaucoma.”

American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus: “Glaucoma for Children.”

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on January 16, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.