Down Syndrome and Obesity

Down Syndrome and Obesity

Obesity has been a rising trend in America (Rubin, Rimmer, Chicoine, Braddock, & McGuire, 1998).  The prevalence of obesity from 2015 to 2016 was 39.8% of the general population, affecting as many as 93.3 million American adults (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). People who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk for serious health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and other detrimental health conditions (Esposito, MacDonald, Hornyak, & Ulrich, 2012).  It is also one of the leading causes of premature death that could be preventable (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018).

People with Down Syndrome have a higher obesity prevalence than the general population (Rubin et al., 1998).  In the general population in the United State of America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1997) reported that 33% of males and 36% of females are overweight (Rubin et al., 1998).  Adults with Down Syndrome have a significantly higher prevalence with 45% of males and 56% of females being overweight (Rubin et al., 1998). However, this higher rate of being overweight was not only found in the United States.  More recently, a study conducted in 2009 found that Dutch children with Down Syndrome have “alarmingly high prevalence rates of overweight and obesity during childhood and adolescence” compared with the general Dutch population (Van Gameren-Oosterom, Van Dommelen, Schönbeck, Oudesluys-Murphy, Van Wouwe, & Buitendijk, 2012).  Compared with the general Dutch population, children with Down Syndrome were more often overweight: 25.5% of boys with Down Syndrome were overweight as compared to 13.3% within the general population, and 32.0% of girls with Down Syndrome were overweight as compared to 14.9% within the general population (Van Gameren-Oosterom et al., 2012).  In addition, children with Down Syndrome were also found to have a higher rate of obesity compared to the Dutch general population. 4.2% of boys with Down Syndrome was found to be obese compared to 1.8% of typically developing children and 5.1% of girls with Down Syndrome were found to be overweight compared to 2.2% of typically developing Dutch children (Van Gameren-Oosterom et al., 2012).

Furthermore, it is found that people with Down Syndrome have an increased risk of having diseases related to overweight conditions (Rubin et al., 1998) and this increased risk starts early.  Children with Down Syndrome have a tendency to become overweight and obese and the rates of obesity among this population are much higher than the general population (Murray & Ryan-Krause, 2010).  These individuals have a propensity for obesity and a large amount of abdominal fat storage,and are subsequently at a higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes mellitus and may be at a higher risk of experience negative physical consequences associated with obesity (Murray & Ryan-Krause, 2010).  People with Down Syndrome have physiological mechanisms that relate to an increased risk for obesity such as hypothyroidism, decreased basal metabolic rate, increased leptin, poor mastication, and decreased resting energy expenditure (Marray & Ryan-Krause, 2010).

Many of these physiological mechanisms can be regulated to decrease an individual’s risk for obesity (Murray & Ryan-Krause, 2010).  Each child is unique, therefore in order to develop an appropriate prevention and management plan that is tailored to an individual child’s needs, a comprehensive assessment of their complete history must be taken (Murray & Ryan-Krause, 2010).  There are many ways to manage weight, such as encouraging increased physical activity, limiting sedentary lifestyles and eating a balanced diet with vitamin and mineral supplements (Murray & Ryan-Krause, 2010). It is important to remember that not all treatments are effective for all individuals and thus the interventions should be specifically tailored for each child with Down Syndrome (Murray & Ryan-Krause, 2010).  

Obesity, one of the leading causes of preventable death, has been increasing in prevalence throughout the years all around the world (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018).  Unfortunately, there are even higher rates in individuals with Down Syndrome (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). It is important to continue to pursue research in preventing and educating the general population in regards to overweight and obesity by teaching people about proper nutrition and dietary intake as well as the importance of physical activity in daily life.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Adult Obesity Facts. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from

Murray, J., Ryan-Krause, P. (2010). Obesity in children with down syndrome: background and recommendations for management. Pediatric Nursing, 36(6), 314-9.

Rubin, S.S., Rimmer, J. H., Chicoine, B., Braddock, D., & McGuire, D. E. (1998).  Overweight Prevalence in Persons with Down Syndrome. Mental Retard, 38, 175-181. doi:10.1352/0047-6765(1998)036<0175:OPIPWD>2.0.CO;2

Van Gameren-Oosterom, H. B., Van Dommelen, P., Schönbeck, Y., Oudesluys-Murphy, A. M., Van Wouwe, J. P., & Buitendijk, S. E. (2012). Prevalence of overweight in Dutch children with Down syndrome. American Academy of Pediatrics, 130(6). doi:10.1542/peds.2012-0886


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