Obesity in children grows out of control

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Lori Moseley

How does being overweight affect children?

It’s widely known that being obese and overweight leads to health problems in adults.

Health issues that were once thought only to affect adults are now known to impact our children.

Obesity has long-term consequences in children, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, increased risk of insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal problems, fatty liver disease and gastro-esophageal reflux.

Research in 2002 by Guijing Wang and William Dietz estimated that hospital costs of treating children for obesity-associated conditions rose from $35 million in 1979-81 to $127 million in 1997–99.

According to the 2010 “Too Fat to Fight” report, which showed that 27 percent of all Americans ages 17 to 24 are too overweight for military service, today’s children may be the first generation of Americans to live shorter lives than their parents.

Several body systems are impacted by obesity.

Cardiovascular disease affects children. Hypertension has been diagnosed in obese children. Left ventricular hypertrophy is also associated with an increase in body mass index (BMI) in children. Increased BMI is also associated with an increase in atherosclerosis. The processes (hypertension, left ventricular hypertrophy and atherosclerosis) that lead to heart attacks and strokes are now beginning at a younger age.

Metabolic disorders are also impacted by obesity. Type 2 diabetes, once known as adult-onset diabetes, is now no longer limited to adults. It had to be renamed due to the growing numbers of children with the disease. Type 2 diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney failure, neuropathy and cardiovascular disease. Insulin resistance – a consequence of obesity – is now a concern in the pediatric population. 

Researchers have found metabolic syndrome in 30 percent of obese children.  Metabolic syndrome includes increased weight circumference, increased triglycerides, decreased HDL and elevated blood glucose levels. Metabolic syndrome is not only a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes in adults, but also in children as well.

The lungs are also compromised by obesity. New-onset asthma is higher among children who are overweight. Asthma prevalence and severity has increased over the past years.

Stephen R. Daniels of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center wrote in 2006 that the direct link between asthma and obesity is not clearly understood, but may be due in part to the excess weight limiting the motion of the diaphragm.  

In addition, sleep apnea is also a condition that is tied to obesity. Consequences of untreated obstructive sleep apnea include failure to thrive, bed-wetting, attention-deficit disorder, behavior problems, poor academic performance and cardiopulmonary disease.  

A study by the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools suggests that obstructive sleep apnea occurs in about 17 percent of obese children and adolescents, and that many of these children are academically compromised as a result.

Obstructive sleep apnea affects cardiac function by causing increased blood pressure and left ventricular hypertrophy.

Obesity also impacts the gastrointestinal system. Fat can be deposited in the liver through the progression of obesity. The fat deposits can lead to fibrosis, cirrhosis, end stage liver disease and liver failure.

A 2010 study showed that extreme obesity in children in the United States has reached alarming proportions. 

That study’s lead author, Dr. Corinna Koebnick, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, noted that 7 percent of boys and 5 percent of girls in the United States are now extremely obese. Those numbers are as high as 12 percent in some ethnic groups. Koebnick also noted overweight and obese children are more likely to have reflux than normal-weight children.

Orthopedic complications from obesity leave lasting effects on the bones and joints. Complaints such as fractures, musculoskeletal discomfort, impaired mobility and lower limb malalignment may be more common in obese children.

The psychosocial consequences are numerous.

According to the 2005 Center for Health and Health Care in Schools report, overweight children and youth with decreased levels of self-esteem reported increased rates of loneliness, sadness and nervousness. These children were also more likely to smoke and drink alcohol.

Quality of life issues cannot not be left out. 

The stereotyping of obese children as “lazy, sloppy, ugly or stupid increases with age. 

Daniels noted that the health-related quality of life for obese children was similar to children diagnosed with cancer. 

In one study, obese children reported lower health-related quality of life than normal- weight children and they were five times as likely to have an impaired quality of life.  

Other complications are also linked to childhood obesity as well. Early onset of puberty in boys and girls are noted in obese children. 

Nutritional deficiencies, such as lower vitamin D levels and iron deficiency, accompany childhood obesity.

The truth is obese children are prone to become obese teens and then,  obese adults. 

This constant cycle substantially increases the likelihood of health conditions related to obesity continuing into adulthood.

“The probability of childhood overweight persisting into adulthood increases from approximately 20 percent at 4 years of age, to between 40 percent and 80 percent by adolescence,” according to The Center for Health and Health Care in Schools.

Children and adults do not have to let this cycle continue. 

Through exercise and eating in moderation, both children and adults can be successful in reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. 

 To learn more about adopting a healthy lifestyle, please visit the website, www.millionpound challengelancaster.com or contact Deborah Boulware at (803) 288-0705.

– Lori Moseley is program director of the University of South Carolina Lancaster Health Service Diabetes Education Clinic.