• Risk Factors for Obesity

    A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.
    It is possible to develop obesity with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing obesity. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.
    Risk factors for obesity include:

    Poor Diet

    If you eat high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, you are likely to eat more calories than you burn each day, thus increasing your risk of becoming obese. Another risk factor is eating after you are full and eating quickly.
    Also, regularly drinking high calorie drinks such as alcoholic beverages or soda can increase your risk.
    Children may also be at risk for becoming obese if they do not eat their regular meals with their family.

    Lack of Sleep

    Not getting enough sleep may put children at risk for obesity. How much sleep in enough for kids? Here are general recommendations:
    • Aged 5 years or younger—11 hours or more
    • 5-10 years—10 hours or more
    • 10 years or older—9 hours or more

    Lack of Physical Activity

    If you don’t get enough physical activity (exercise), you are likely to burn fewer calories than you eat each day, thus increasing your risk of becoming obese. For children, too little exercise and spending too much time watching TV or playing on the computer can increase their risk of gaining weight and becoming obese.

    Working Varied Shifts

    Working shifts at different times of the day and night increases your risk of becoming obese.

    Medical Conditions and Medications

    Certain medications, rare hereditary diseases, and hormonal imbalances (such as hypothyroid and Cushing’s disease) increase your risk of obesity.


    If you are a smoker and want to quit , you may worry that quitting will increase your weight. Keep in mind that you can overcome this weight gain by reducing how many calories you consume and by exercising more. Overall, the health benefits of quitting smoking far exceed the risk of gaining weight.
    If you are pregnant, smoking may increase your child's risk of becoming obese.


    The incidence of obesity more than doubles between the ages of 20 and 55. However, this may be related to a decrease in activity levels. A recent study found that within 30 years, over half of a large group of normal-weight men and women became overweight.

    Genetic Factors

    Rare hereditary diseases may increase the risk of obesity.
    In addition, obesity may run in families. For example, if parents are overweight, their child may be at a higher risk of being overweight, as well. Both genetic and lifestyle factors could play a role in the child's excess weight.


    There is a higher incidence of obesity among certain races or ethnic groups. In the US, obesity more African American women and Hispanic women than white women. In US men, Hispanic men are most often affected. For children, being African American, Hispanic, or Native American increases their risk of obesity.


    Beers MH, Berkow R. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy . 17th ed. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck & Co; 1999.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ .

    Obesity in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated August 16, 2012. Accessed August 28, 2012.

    Obesity in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated July 25, 2012. Accessed August 28, 2012.

    Vasan RS, Pencina MJ, Cobain M, Freiberg MS, D’Agostino RB. Estimated risks for developing obesity in the Framingham Heart Study. Ann Intern Med. 2005;143:473-480.

    Who is at risk for overweight and obesity. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/obe/atrisk.html . Accessed August 29, 2012.

    12/2/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Maruyama K, Ohira T, Maeda K, et al. The joint impact on being overweight of self reported behaviours of eating quickly and eating until full: cross sectional survey. BMJ. 2008;337.

    9/25/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Mizutani T, Suzuki K, Kondo N, Yamagata Z. Association of maternal lifestyles including smoking during pregnancy with childhood obesity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007;15:3133-3139.

    11/10/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Laurson KR, Eisenmann JC, Welk GJ, Wickel EE, Gentile DA, Walsh DA. Combined influence of physical activity and screen time recommendations on childhood overweight. J Pediatr. 2008;153(2):209-214.

    6/25/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Anderson SE, Whitaker RC. Household routines and obesity in US preschool-aged children. Pediatrics. 2010;125(3):420-428.

    9/24/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Semmler C, Ashcroft J, van Jaarsveld CH, Carnell S, Wardle J. Development of overweight in children in relation to parental weight and socioeconomic status. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009;17(4):814-820.

    11/30/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Madsen KA, Weedn AE, Crawford PB. Disparities in peaks, plateaus, and declines in prevalence of high BMI among adolescents. Pediatrics. 2010;126(3):434-442. Epub 2010 Aug 16.

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