Obesity: Signs and Symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms of pediatric obesity?

Unlike many other common childhood diseases, obesity may not be associated with physical problems or complaints until late in the illness. Although most of us feel that we can easily recognize an obese child or adult when we seen one, the reality is that from a medical standpoint a child has typically passed from being “overweight” to “obese” long before their parents recognize it.

For this reason we rely on regular tracking of a child’s weight and height during well child exams from their primary care provider to tell us when a problem is developing. We typically use a measurement called the Body Mass Index (BMI) to assess a person’s weight compared to their height to determine when there is a problem.

Like adults, the other physical complications of childhood obesity often go unrecognized until they are at advanced stages. Subtle indicators that a child’s weight may be excessive and impacting their health may include:

  • poor physical endurance or ability to keep up with friends
  • shortness of breath with exertion
  • snoring or long pauses in breathing while sleeping
  • consistent complaints of pain in their knees, ankles or hips
  • swelling or fluid accumulation in their lower legs or feet

In addition, increasing weight may cause worsening of known health issues such as asthma or gastroesophageal reflux/ heartburn. Other worrisome signs or symptoms that may indicate medical problems caused by obesity include headaches, abdominal pain, daytime sleepiness, absent or irregular menstruation, persistently elevated blood pressures and depression.