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Most common medical causes of obesity and weight gain in children, teens

Posted Sep 09 2009 10:38pm

Moving on to number 8 on the  list of Top 10  culprits behind childhood obesity, we run into health problems -- sometimes there are hidden medical issues that make it very difficult to manage weight .

Most common  medical issues  leading to weight gain in children or teens:

  • Thyroid - Low levels of your thyroid hormone (a condition known as hypothyroidism) causes a slowed down metabolism leading your body to store more fat than you burn.
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) - In teenage girls and women, this is a hormonal imbalance associated with irregular periods, acne, excessive facial hair, and infertility.  
  • Chronic stress or depression - Yes, even children and teens seem to be stressed out these days and sown about one thing or the other.  Stress causes higher levels of the hormone cortisol in the blood which causes weight gain.  See links below for available resources.
  • Syndrome X is a constellation of symptoms and signs  involving high blood levels of the hormone insulin and resistance to how it works.   This causes other hormones related to weight control to not work as well causing the weight gain.  Another less common cause but still seen is  Cushing Syndrome  (high blood cortisol levels).
  • Genetics - At times children may be born with syndromes in which weight gain is noted.  These include Down,  Prader-Willi, and  Lawrence-Moon-BiedlCohen,  and  Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndromes.
  • Gene association - A hormone called leptin which is produced in fat tissue guided by a particular gene was discovered a few years back.  It seems to mediate the body's energy expenditure. 
  • Surgery - The research has shown that kids after having had their  tonsils and adenoids removed are more likely to gain weight (Pediatrics Journal April 2004).

Most common  medications  leading to weight gain: 

  • Corticosteroids, some antipsychotics, some antidepressants, some heart and blood pressure medications, some medications used to treat Type 2 diabetes (ironically enough), some anti-seizure medications, and some birth control pills (although this last one is debatable).
  • NOTE: If you suspect that the weight gain your child or teen is experiencing due to any medications, do NOT stop the medications on your own.  It may be life-threatening to do so.  Consult with your physician before making any changes.  

It is very important to maintain open, honest and frequent lines of communication with your child or teen's primary physician.  Weight issues and many other topics can be addressed in a timely fashion and solutions drawn up in time. 

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society of Bariatric Physicians / American Board of Bariatric Medicine.

Picture by Keith Frith, PhotoXpress

For more info: Creating a personal stress management guide for teens,   AAP stress management resources for parents

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