Childhood Obesity and Quality of Life

discouraged (woman)

A little over 10 years ago, research was done on the quality of life experienced by children in various life situations. The starting point was a prior study that had compared the quality of life experienced by young cancer patients with children who suffered from congenital heart disease, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.

The team leader was pediatric gastroenterologist Jeffrey Schwimmer, MD, director of the Weight and Wellness Center at San Diego’s Children’s Hospital and Health Center. For the obesity study, both children and parents answered questions about the children’s physical, emotional and social lives, as well as any issues they might be coping with in their school careers. The test was called Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory, or PedsQL for short.

What are the problems?

The participating children and their families were asked about everything from difficulty in walking one city block, to the amount of teasing they endured, to their own feelings of fear or sadness. But it didn’t end there. The obese children were also examined at the hospital to see if they had any dangerous conditions such as high insulin levels or internal imbalances that indicated an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Doctors also looked for fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea.

But even for an obese child who did not, or did not yet, experience any of these conditions, the obesity alone impacted their lives severely. The researchers were surprised to find that the negative consequences of obesity were felt to the same degree by male and female children. This was unexpected, because among obese adults, it was most often the women who reported a poor quality of life.

Perhaps the biggest shock came when the obesity study was compared to the earlier study of children with various other illnesses. Dr. Schwimmer reports an unexpected parallel, as quoted in a press release:

The likelihood of significant quality-of-life impairment was profound for obese children. We were most surprised, however, that the quality-of-life scores self-reported by children and assessed by parents were as bad as scores previously reported by children with cancer who were undergoing chemotherapy.

That finding can be seen as truly alarming — obese kids suffering just as much as young cancer patients who are being treated with chemotherapy. Compared to a healthy child, the obese child — like the young cancer patient — was found to be 5.5 times as likely to experience an impaired quality of life.

There is no telling how many young medical students and apprentice therapists got a wake-up call from the publication of that research in the Journal of the American Medical Association, but one thing is for sure: it left a profound impression on Dr. Pretlow, as we have seen from his recent post, “Obese Youth and Motivation.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obese Children and Their Parents Report Impaired Quality of Life,”, 04/08/03
Image by Amy Moon


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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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