Childhood Obesity and its Impact on Health

Childhood Obesity and its Impact on Health

Childhood obesity has become a major health concern among clinicians in recent years. In fact, more than 23 million children and teenagers in the U.S. are obese or overweight, a statistic that health and medical experts consider an epidemic. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years, resulting in about 20% of children fitting the qualifications for obesity. This has serious implications and is a precursor to a progressive pattern of immediate health issues and later developing chronic disease. Children are at risk of developing diseases that were typically only seen in the adult population such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Other complications include bone and joint issues such as osteoarthritis, and psychosocial problems such as depression and low self-esteem.

Risk Factors

There is no single culprit when determining the cause of the drastic rise in childhood obesity in recent years, and it is a multifactorial problem. The dietary and physical activity behaviors of children and adolescents are influenced by many subdivisions of society, including families, communities, schools, child care settings, medical care providers, religion, and the media. Some cases may also include comorbid medical conditions and genetic factors that lead to almost inevitable weight gain. However, for the majority of cases it comes down to a simple algorithm of kids eating too much and not being active enough. Kids are also not making healthy food choices, and elect to eat and drink things that are fast and convenient and are typically very unhealthy. Other risk factors for your children are certainly socioeconomic barriers and environmental factors. It can be expensive to provide a healthy diet, and some people simply do not have sufficient time to cook meals at home. Because of this, many homes are filled with processed convenience foods that are readily accessible to children, and they develop poor eating habits and eat foods with poor nutritional value. Psychological issues such as stress and boredom can also lead to binge eating behaviors, and are risk factors. All of these factors play crucial roles in children becoming obese.

Definition/Diagnosis

Childhood obesity is medically diagnosed by your doctor using body mass index (BMI), and determines where your child is on the national BMI-for-age growth chart. Using the growth chart, your doctor determines your child’s percentile compared with other children of the same sex and age. For example, if your doctor reveals that your child is in the 85th percentile, this translates into that 85% of children the same age and sex has a lower BMI than your child. Guidelines established by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention state following:

1.) Overweight— BMI-for-age between 85th and 94th percentiles

2.) Obese— BMI-for-age 95th percentile or above

Childhood obesity puts nearly one third of America’s children at early risk of serious diseases such as:

1.) Hypertension/high cholesterol: Children who eat foods with high sodium, fat, and cholesterol content can develop high blood pressure. By increasing the pressure through your blood vessels, you can cause plaques to build up in the vessels making them much more narrow and worsening blood pressure. These factors can lead to lack of blood flow to the heart or brain, and ultimately lead to heart attacks or strokes.

2.) Type 2 diabetes: If a patient is exposed to excess sugar intake, your body will make adjustments and affect the process of normal metabolism of sugar. This leads to an excess of sugar in the blood, and over time can have major consequences on the organs and vessels of the body. It can lead to damage of nerves causing numbness and loss of sensation, it can lead to vision problems, poor healing of wounds, recurrent infections, and sometimes kidney malfunction among many other problems.

3.) Asthma/sleeping disorders: Patients who are obese have an excess of weight baring down and restricting the lungs or obstructing the air way. This can lead to poorly developed lungs leading to asthma and can also lead to sleep apnea which is the cessation of breathing while asleep due to obstruction of the airway. These can lead to significant cardiac problems and adverse health outcomes.

4.) Metabolic Syndrome: Patients can develop an accumulation of diseases all together such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and central obesity. This can lead to many adverse health effects.

5.) Hormonal Imbalances: Being obese as a child will likely result in hormonal imbalances. These imbalances can result in things such as early onset of puberty and early menstruation for young girls. This puts your children at much higher risks for developing other diseases later on in life, including increasing their risks for certain types of cancer.

6.) Low Self Esteem/Depression: Children who are obese often get ridiculed by their peers, and are not able to perform in physical activities as well as others. This often leads to a decrease in confidence, and can affect performance in school, social interaction, and ultimately lead to depression. This can lead to social isolation, sadness, recurrent bouts of crying, excessive sleep, and loss of interest in activities.

The Best Intervention is Prevention:

Although clinicians are able to treat all of the above conditions, the best treatment for childhood obesity is prevention. Work with your children to establish healthy eating habits, and encourage education of nutrition. Moderation is essential, so limit your child’s caloric intake and avoid convenient processed foods. Be proactive in making your child more active. Participate in activities with them and encourage activity. Children do not necessarily need a structured exercise plan, so be proactive in participating in fun activities with your child. Treating all of the resulting disease processes from childhood obesity can result in a high economic burden as well. With these steps and hard work, we can provide a better quality of life for our children and break the upward trend of increasing rates of childhood obesity.

Resource: Dr. Priti M. Kothari, M.D.P.A. is Board Certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology as well as Board Certified in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. bariatric weight loss surgical weight loss
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