Childhood Obesity is an Epidemic

Obesity in America is at an epidemic level. It is a global issue and the statistics only prove that it continues to rise. The world’s children face the threats of this global obesity epidemic and the prevalence of obesity in children continue to rise. Over the last 30 years the number of overweight children has doubled. Over 30% of children ages 6-19 are considered overweight. Of these, 15% are considered obese. Unfortunately, excess weight and obesity in childhood has been found to be an indicator of obesity in adulthood and statistics further show that teenagers have an 80% probability of being obese in adulthood.

Beyond the numbers……

Beyond the statistics are real people facing this epidemic. Evan, a 10-year old from Wisconsin, is considered clinically obese. His mother, Janice, began to face the health risks that her son faced at this early age and took him to a specialist. Janice recalls that in addition to her son’s growing health problems, it was the constant teasing and cruel behavior from the other kids that began to make an impact on him socially. In addition to constant weight-gain, Evan began a behavioral decline in almost all social situations. He was an unhealthy 10-year old who had become withdrawn. His mother no longer saw the smile on her son’s face. The combination was devastating. The clinical findings shed some light on a potentially frightening future. Aside from the immediate health issues, Janice learned that her son was extremely deficient in key minerals and nutrients that protect children from childhood diseases and illnesses encountered in adulthood. Janice learned that Evan was not alone. A high percentage of obese children are found to be deficient in Vitamin D, which is a crucial vitamin involved in insulin resistance syndrome and is present in over half of overweight children and teens. Janice saw a life of constant struggle for her son in terms of his health. An immediate course of action was designed, and a new approach to re-nourish her child was introduced. In addition to pharmacological management to address his high cholesterol, Evan was started on a supplement to replace those nutrients he will need for his healthy future.

Obesity not only includes the extra weight, but clinical evidence shows that obesity in children leads to a multitude of health issues. Some of these health issues have only been seen in the adult population. Liver disease, heart disease, cancers, vascular disease, certain sleep disorders, orthopedic issues, and hypercholesterolemia have all presented in children who are obese. The statistics are overwhelming; approximately 25% of children who are considered obese have been shown to have high blood pressure. Obese children are almost 10 times as likely to have hypertension, and the link of diabetes to obesity is staggering. 85% of children diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes are obese.

To further the severity of the obesity epidemic in children, social issues add to the stigma. Children who are teased about their weight often develop social stigmas including low self-esteem and self-worth. Children are also at risk of developing eating disorders and clinical depression.

What can families do to prevent the future disease linked to pediatric obesity?

Most clinicians agree that the first step to addressing this issue is diagnosing the problem. Recognition that your child is obese may be the most important step in positive change. Other medical issues, such as hypothyroidism, should be ruled out before determining the appropriate plan of action. Once determined to be obese, or if a child begins to gain excess weight, family intervention is essential. A well-balanced program consisting of diet, exercise, behavior modification, supplementation, and possible pharmacological agents should be considered.

Can Pediatric Obesity be prevented?

The prevention of Pediatric Obesity may be aided by the following suggestions:

  • Avoid pre-packaged or pre-prepared foods high in preservatives, sugars, and fats.
  • Limit snack or junk foods kept in the home.
  • Provide foods for your child that are rich in fiber.
  • Provide foods for your child that have less than 30% of calories that are derived from fat.
  • Don’t offer foods as rewards.
  • Don’t negotiate with your child using food as a tool.
  • Limit “couch potato” behavior. Monitor the time your child watches TV and plays video games.
  • Plan family exercise.

The Pharmaceutical and Nutrasuetical Approach

There are few pharmaceutical treatments approved for children. Some diet pills, such as Xenical, Didrex, and Bontril may be used in children as young as 12 years old. As with all medications, there have been some reported adverse reactions associated with these medications, although some are minimal. Over the counter (OTC) weight-loss products should be avoided at all costs when considering use by children. These products are not approved by the FDA and therefore do not provide the sense of security required by most parents.

What are the options?

When considering a plan for children, most clinicians suggest a systematic approach to weight-loss, which includes a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, positive emotional reinforcement, and follow up with physicians.

Whatever the approach, this is certain: Pediatric obesity is an epidemic. Treatment and prevention will require the effort of the entire family. There is help available in the form of healthy foods, exercise plan options, and supplements aimed at helping restore your child’s internal defenses. Children need this help in order to fight the battles they may face as adults if not addressed now.