Guest Column: The side effects of childhood obesity

Childhood obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile relative to age, gender, height and weight, is becoming more and more common. There are many theories to explain this trend, from increased TV watching and videogame playing, to more fast food consumption, as well as less time allotted for physical activity at home and in schools.

Regardless of the causes of childhood obesity, there are many short- and long-term negative effects including serious potential health problems starting in childhood and continuing into adulthood. The good news is that with the proper medical support and family lifestyle changes health problems associated with excess weight can often be avoided.

Some health problems that once were uncommon in children are becoming more common with the increase in childhood obesity. These include Type II diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, asthma, joint pain, chronic heartburn, fatty liver disease and gallstones, to name a few. Metabolic syndrome also is becoming more common in both obese children and obese adults. Metabolic syndrome is not a disease, but a set of conditions that can put a person at very high risk for developing heart disease, diabetes or other health problems. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar are the dangerous trio that make-up the condition known as metabolic syndrome.

Besides physical problems, childhood obesity also can lead to emotional problems like poor self esteem and depression, which often are related to a child who experiences bullying and mistreatment. Obese children are more likely to experience social anxiety, have behavioral and learning problems in school, and even experience sleep difficulties.

Studies show that obese children are more likely to become obese adults. Even if a child is only overweight, becoming obese in adulthood is much more common. Obesity in adults is carries serious health conditions including heart disease, Type II diabetes and many types of cancers. Although study results are still coming in, there appears to be a strong relationship between childhood obesity and developing cardiovascular disease and increased mortality (rate of death in relation to age) as obese children become adults.

Despite the many serious physical and emotional risks of childhood obesity, with the right treatment and family support, childhood obesity is treatable and most health consequences can be reversed. Families often incorporate multiple kinds of support from healthcare providers, sports trainers, counselors and nutritionists to overcome obesity, often within the family as a whole.

Children eating too much food, eating unhealthy high-calorie foods and not getting enough exercise are the causes of most childhood obesity. However, there are many other factors, like a family history of obesity and socio-economic status that can contribute to the problem. Occasionally a genetic or hormonal problem can be at fault. Only a qualified healthcare provider can rule out an underlying health problem and help individuals and families find the right kind of treatment.

Parents and caregivers should discuss their concerns about their overweight or obese child with a qualified healthcare provider who may recommend laboratory tests, treatment and support. Many medical centers have started programs to support children and their families in their efforts to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle. Although weight loss surgery is sometimes performed on older obese children, it usually is a last resort.

Flagstaff Medical Center's Fit Kids of Arizona assists children and their families in developing healthy lifestyles while reducing the problems and illnesses associated with excess weight. The Fit Kids team is made up of medical, nutritional, fitness and behavioral experts who work on an individual basis to identify concerns and problem areas; then guide the child and family members in setting goals for improvement. If you are concerned that your child may be at an unhealthy weight or at risk for becoming overweight, talk with your pediatrician about treatment and referral to the Fit Kids. To learn more about Fit Kids, visit FitKidsOfArizona.com or call (928) 214-3537.

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