Gender in childhood obesity: family environment, hormones, and genes

Gend Med. 2009;6 Suppl 1:76-85. doi: 10.1016/j.genm.2008.12.001.


Background: The prevalence of obesity among children in the United States represents a pool of latent morbidity. Though the prevalence of obesity has increased in both boys and girls, the causes and consequences differ between the sexes. Thus, interventions proposed to treat and prevent childhood obesity will need to account for these differences.

Objective: This review examines gender differences in the presentation of obesity in children and describes environmental, hormonal, and genetic factors that contribute to observed gender differences.

Methods: A search of peer-reviewed, published literature was performed with PubMed for articles published from January 1974 through October 2008. Search terms used were obesity, sex, gender, hormones, family environment, body composition, adiposity, and genes. Studies of children aged 0 to 18 years were included, and only articles published in English were reviewed for consideration. Articles that illustrated gender differences in either the presentation or underlying mechanisms of obesity in children were reviewed for content, and their bibliographies were used to identify other relevant literature.

Results: Gender differences in childhood obesity have been understudied partially because of how we define the categories of overweight and obesity. Close examination of studies revealed that gender differences were common, both before and during puberty. Boys and girls differ in body composition, patterns of weight gain, hormone biology, and the susceptibility to certain social, ethnic, genetic, and environmental factors.

Conclusion: Our understanding of how gender differences in pediatric populations relate to the pathogenesis of obesity and the subsequent development of associated comorbid states is critical to developing and implementing both therapeutic and preventive interventions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alpha-Ketoglutarate-Dependent Dioxygenase FTO
  • Family Health*
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Hormones / blood*
  • Hormones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Leptin / blood
  • Leptin / genetics
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Proteins / genetics
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / genetics
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4 / metabolism
  • Receptors, Leptin / blood
  • Receptors, Leptin / genetics
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Environment*


  • Hormones
  • Insulin
  • LEPR protein, human
  • Leptin
  • Proteins
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 4
  • Receptors, Leptin
  • Alpha-Ketoglutarate-Dependent Dioxygenase FTO
  • FTO protein, human