I hate the fact childhood obesity is even a topic one could dream up for discussion. But in today’s world it is an issue that is growing from year to year. It is a sad fact that the problem has grown enough that weight loss/bariatric surgery is now a procedure being performed on pediatric and adolescent patients. In fact, as I was sipping on my first cup of coffee for the morning while watching the morning news, this was the first topic being discussed after I turned on my television.
How is it that in the United States where we have all the luxuries and technologies to allow us to live full lives with good health, why are we so ignorant as to allow such a childhood obesity problem to even occur in the first place? Can any of us who are adults say with any hint of honesty that we do not know what causes this problem? Have we become so self absorbed that watching after the health of our own children is not even a priority any more? If you have an over weight or obese child in your home, ask yourself who actually controls the food for your child. Do you only provide them with healthy choices while educating them why? Or, do you give in to Little Johnny every time he throws a temper tantrum for sugary sweet treats instead?
Obesity has not always been the norm.
When I was a child, most kids were skinny as a rail and very active in outdoor play. In the last four decades, the prevalence of obesity in the United States has increased by at least threefold, with a disproportionate rise in low socioeconomic and minority populations. A factor which is making this trend worse is the significant increase in weight related medical complications that used to only be seen in adults.
Let this sink in a second.
Our children are now facing weight related medical complications that used to only be seen in adults!
In 2000, the overall cost of obesity in America was estimated at $117 billion, rivaling medical expenditures attributable to smoking. Expenses for obesity-related hospitalizations in children tripled from $35 million to $127 million from 1979 to 1999. (1) The problem of childhood obesity keeps getting larger with each passing year. Obese children are more likely to become obese adults at risk for increased morbidity and mortality. If your child is becoming or is already overweight or obese you should feel an urgency to get them onto an effective weight loss intervention. Otherwise, that child you love is in for a whole host of lifetime problems:
- Psychological. Overweight children face discrimination, teasing, bullying, low self esteem, peer rejection and abnormal eating habits. These negative factors increase their risk of engaging in high-risk behaviors such as smoking, drug and alcohol abuse. In addition, accelerated growth and early maturation which is common in overweight children distorts societal expectations out of them. For example, a 12 year old who can pass for 16 will face increased pressures as people will expect more out of them by assuming they are older.
- Being overweight during adolescence has been associated with negative social and economic consequences, especially for women. Statistically speaking, women who were overweight in early adolescence completed fewer years of advanced education, had a lower family income, higher poverty rate, and were less likely to get married by early adulthood, compared to women who had not been obese during adolescence. (1)
- Obesity is associated with serious health consequences such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea cancer and osteoarthritis. You might not think there is much risk for your sensitive little girl who suffers from obesity, but you need to know that autopsy studies of overweight children and young adults who died of traumatic causes show early atherosclerotic lesions in the aorta and coronary arteries. Think about this deeply before the next time you give in to your child’s demands for a sweet treat. You may well be causing their early death by not intervening on their behalf when they are over weight. Be their parent, not their friend!
- Childhood obesity is associated with early puberty. How about we ensure our children do not prematurely grow into adult body’s they do not have the maturity to deal with when it comes to sexual arousal.
- Overweight children are at a higher risk for developing high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, abnormalities in endothelial function and glucose metabolism, along with high insulin levels and/or insulin resistance. These factors increase the likelihood of your precious child developing coronary heart disease! In a study, 61% of obese children, ages 5 though 10 years already had at least one cardiovascular risk factor. Think about this when you are allowing your child to be sedentary all day, every day, sitting with an electronic device playing video games instead of going outside to romp and play as children are meant to do.
- Once consider and adult disease, type 2 diabetes is emerging as an epedemic among children, paralleling trends in obesity. In 2000, it was estimated that one in three children born would eventually develop type 2 diabetes. Here we are now in 2019, and the childhood obesity rate has risen significantly as well has the incidents of children developing type 2 diabetes.
- As far back as the early 1980’s, liver damage similar to that found in alcoholics, but without exposure to alcohol, was reported almost exclusively in overweight children. Fatty liver, or Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) is now thought to be the most common cause of liver disease in children, and some researchers link it to metabolic syndrome of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes mellitus. Approximately 10 to 25 percent of overweight children have elevated liver enzymes, and a majority may have evidence of NASH on ultrasound or CT scans. While some kids with NASH present with an enlarged liver or right abdominal pain, the vast majority show no symptoms. Think about this, your child could have grave health problems beginning and since they are not showing any symptoms, you will not know until they have progressed to a more serious stage.
As parents, we owe it to our children to raise them with proper nutrition and to get them into physical activities that keep them in good physical condition. It is easier to do so before the problem arises than afterwards. Consider this, obesity interventions, even for children, can be dietary, physical activity, behavioral, pharmacologic, and surgical. Or, any combination of these factors. I can think of no one who would want to put their child through these interventions, especially pharmacological and surgical. I personally could never want my child or grandchildren to require undergoing surgery for a condition that could have been addressed at an early stage, if it was even allowed to occur in the first place. You know, bariatric surgery for a child would be a last ditch effort to save their young life when all else has failed and they are going to die you as a result of morbid obesity.
Take care of this problem early in their young lives. It has been shown that early interventions with children has resulted in long term results than adult obesity programs, Decrease your child’s sedentary times, increase their physical activity and ensure the entire family has adopted healthy dietary habits before you have allowed them to suffer the consequences of obesity. You would not want your child to ruin their health through tobacco, alcohol or drugs. Please do not allow them to ruin their life through bad a calorie dense, nutritionally poor diet.
(1) Obesity in Childhood and Adolescence, Ihuoma Eneli, Karah Daniels Mantinan