You may have heard about the "obesity epidemic" in the media. The risks appear to be even greater than ever. About a third of children and adolescents in the United States are overweight.
As the prevalence of childhood risk factors increases so too will adult heart disease. Childhood obesity contributes to many of the adult risk factors including height, blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, and diabetes.
Recent articles in the New England Journal of Medicine provide evidence that childhood obesity leads to heart disease. A study of nearly 300,000 children in Denmark between the ages of 7 and 13 years found that those who were overweight had an increased risk of heart attacks and other heart problems after the age of 25. Birth weight had no effect on future heart risk.
One striking example of premature disease is among obese adolescent girls. Their risk of death is nearly three times higher by middle age compared to those at normal weight. Furthermore, the effects of obesity may have a negative effect on lifespan worse than all cancers combined.
Although an obese child may remain asymptomatic for many years, obesity worsens many cardiac risk factors. For example, blood pressure increases, cholesterol levels become abnormal and an early form of diabetes (insulin resistance) develops.
Obese children tend to remain overweight into adulthood. It's not clear if bad habits persist or if actual changes in the brain actually promote hunger and decrease metabolism. Even more concerning is that the children of obese adults are even sicker than their parents.
At its simplest, obesity can be explained by greater calorie intake compared to output. Several simple solutions can help:
- Teach your kids to avoid the high-calorie food often advertised on television and easily available in school cafeterias.
- Encourage high quality fruits such as fruits and vegetables.
- Limit the inactivity of your kids by decreasing television viewing.
- Encourage outdoor activities.
- Do not use sweets or treats (these contain many calories) to reward good behavior or stopping bad behavior; instead come up with other innovative ideas.
- Do not prohibit all sweets and unhealthy favorite snacks from children's diets. Children may instead satisfy their craving by overeating these forbidden foods in school and elsewhere.
- Do not force a clean-plate policy. If kids are satisfied, don't push them to continue eating.
- And above all else, practice what you preach. Children learn from example.
Published On: February 25, 2008