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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 becoming obese. 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

The following dietary habits can increase your risk of obesity:

  • A diet of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods
  • Consuming more calories than you burn each day
  • Eating quickly, or when you feel full
  • Drinking high-calorie drinks, including sugar-sweetened soda or alcohol

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 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 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.


Children who are obese are at increased risk of obesity in adulthood.

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. A combination of genetic and lifestyle factors are likely to 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.

Childhood Trauma

Harsh physical punishment or abuse during childhood may increase the risk of obesity in adults. There is a higher incidence of obesity in adults who were raised in such environments.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at increased risk of developing obesity.

Revision Information

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  • Obesity. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Update February 2014. Accessed February 27, 2014.

  • Obesity in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated July 10, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2016.

  • Obesity in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Updated July 10, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2016.

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  • 3/6/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Morenga TM, Mallard S, Mann J. Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies. BMJ. 2013;346:e7492.

  • 8/20/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance Afifi TO, Mota N, Macmillan HL, et al. Harsh physical punishment in childhood and adult physical health. Pediatrics. 2013 Aug;132(2).

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