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Effects of Obesity on Human Lifespan Development


Obesity is a widespread disease, and it has multiple adverse effects on different stages of human development. Being obese means having body mass index, which is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared, “at or above the 95th percentile for height and age” (Kuther, 2018, p. 255). As a rule, genetics plays a significant role in an individual’s risks of developing obesity; yet, the environment determines whether these risks will be fulfilled (Kuther, 2018). Among children predisposed to obesity, those living in families with a poor socioeconomic situation or having much screen time, an unbalanced diet, and little physical activity are more likely to become obese (Kuther, 2018). This paper aims at examining the effects of obesity on different development stages in the four domains of human development: physical, cognitive, socio-emotional, and spiritual. All four domains are interrelated and develop simultaneously, and problems in one domain are likely to disturb the development in other domains.

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Physical Development

One of the most evident effects of obesity is its influence on physical development. Higher weight in the neonatal development stage is a risk factor for later obesity and the development of type 2 diabetes, and the same is true for higher weight in infancy (Hawkins et al., 2018). In early childhood, parents and child care settings are responsible for managing a child’s diet and physical activity; if they fail to do it, a child’s obesity will proceed to adolescence (Hawkins et al., 2018). In adolescence, an individual’s habits formed during childhood, and well as the influence of peers having unhealthy lifestyles, hinder an individual from losing excess weight. As a rule, obese adolescents fail to cope with their disease and turn into obese adults (Kuther, 2018). Obesity negatively affects general health indicators, leading to such problems as “heart disease, high blood pressure, orthopedic problems, and diabetes” (Kuther, 2018, p. 256). Such adverse effects as labored movements and dyspnea also can make it difficult for obese people to involve in physical activity.

The influence of obesity on physical activity deserves particular attention. Physical activity stimulates processes in the organism, which cause the growth of skeletal muscles or fat-free mass (Westerterp, 2018). At the same time, the major increase in fat-free mass occurs during adolescence (Westerterp, 2018). It has been found that physical activity increases fat-free mass in adolescents but has no effect on fat-free mass in adulthood and later age (Westerterp, 2018). It implies that adolescents should be encouraged to participate in sports to grow skeletal muscles. However, research shows that obese adolescents are less involved in physical activity than their counterparts with normal weight (Westerterp, 2018). Obesity makes people move less because the energy cost of moving a larger body is higher.

Cognitive Development

Obesity has a negative influence on the cognitive domain of human development. If infants are overfed in the neonatal period, it will damage their hippocampus, a structure in the brain responsible for memory, and it may lead to problems with memory in adulthood (Agustí et al., 2018). Evidence shows that both obese children and adults have lower cognitive performance than people with normal weight, which is expressed in poorer attention and visuospatial abilities (Agustí et al., 2018). As a result of the mentioned cognitive impairments, obesity negatively affects a person’s milestone achievement. Poor memory and attention are sure to lead to inadequate academic performance both at school and university, as well as low productivity in the workplace, which may result in difficulties in getting a promotion and career development.

Socio-Emotional Development

Obese people experience problems with socio-emotional development, which begin when a child starts interacting with peers. Children and adolescents suffering from obesity often face “peer rejection, depression, low self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction” (Kuther, 2018, p. 257). Obesity is stigmatized in society, and children tend to laugh at their obese peers (Wiltshire et al., 2017). As a result, it is difficult for those with obesity to learn to establish positive relationships with other people and express their emotions. Negative attitudes to obesity also influence obese people’s participation in sports. At schools, for example, children try to avoid engaging in sports if they are not good at it to avoid being laughed at (Wiltshire et al., 2017). As a result, obese people are less involved in sports not only because they have physical difficulty in moving their large bodies but also because they do not want others to look at and tease them.

Spiritual Development

Spiritual development mainly refers to finding meaning in one’s life. The problems in other domains of human development, which result from the influence of obesity, may cause difficulties in spiritual development. For example, it was mentioned that obesity might lead to depression, which, in turn, can make a person lose meaning in life. Obese people lack a sense of control over their lives and bodies; they believe that it depends on luck or other individuals (Fathabadi et al., 2017). As a result, they have less self-actualization and spiritual development than their healthy counterparts (Fathabadi et al., 2017). It has been found that adopting a belief in the sanctity of the body and the higher power’s encouragement of healthy lifestyles makes people adhere to healthier habits (Piko & Brassai, 2016). Thus, obesity negatively affects spiritual development, but spiritual interventions can help people cope with this disease.


To sum up, obesity hurts all four domains of human development. It impairs physical development by causing various illnesses and hindering physical activity. Obesity leads to a poor cognitive performance by impairing memory and attention. Socio-emotional development also suffers from obesity because people cannot learn to fit into society and express their emotions properly. Finally, this disease has a negative influence on spiritual development.

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  1. Agustí, A., García-Pardo, M. P., López-Almela, I., Campillo, I., Maes, M., Romaní-Pérez, M., & Sanz, Y. (2018). Interplay between the gut-brain axis, obesity and cognitive function. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12(155), 1-17. Web.
  2. Fathabadi, J., Izaddoust, M., Taghvaee D., Shallani, B., & Sadeghi, S. (2017). Prediction the risk of obesity based on irrational beliefs, health locus of control and health-oriented lifestyle. Journal of Research in Psychological Health, 11(3), 1-12.
  3. Hawkins, S.S., Oken, E., & Gillman, M.W. (2018). Early in the life course: Time for obesity prevention. In N. Halfon, C. Forrest, R. Lerner, & E. Faustman (Eds.), Handbook of life course health development (pp. 169-196). Springer.
  4. Kuther, T. L. (2018). Lifespan development: Lives in context (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications.
  5. Piko, B. F., & Brassai, L. (2016). A reason to eat healthy: The role of meaning in life in maintaining homeostasis in modern society. Health Psychology Open, 3(1), 1-4. Web.
  6. Wiltshire, G., Lee, J., & Evans, J. (2017). ‘You don’t want to stand out as the bigger one’: Exploring how PE and school sport participation is influenced by pupils and their peers. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 22(5), 548-561. Web.

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