East Jefferson General Hospital

Top Five Health Risks of Childhood Obesity

In the past few weeks, I have discussed two important topics for parents now that the school year has started. The first topic was the importance of getting recommended health screenings and immunizations for children, and the second discussed why healthy school lunches are vital to children's overall development.

This week I want to discuss reasons children need to balance good nutrition with physical activity. In my book Body Plan for Kids, I go into great detail explaining how overweight or obese children put themselves at greater risk of developing chronic, health problems as they become an adult. Children of today tend to consume greater amounts of calories and perform less physical activity than in the past. In fact, I quoted Dr. James Marks of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's health group saying if we don't deal with childhood obesity, "this could be the first generation that will live sicker and die younger than its parents."

My recommendation is to make sure your child gets an hour of exercise everyday. Many parents may find this difficult to make that time commitment with school and homework. I firmly believe, however, that daily exercise will actually make them better students, allow them the feel more energetic throughout the day and will assist their ability to focus on learning. Whether it is organized team activities or individual free play outside, they will reap important health benefits that will positively impact their future health.

As a society, if we can reduce the rate of childhood obesity we may be able to reverse the dangerous trends we are seeing today. The top five health complications children may be able to avoid by maintaining a healthy weight and proper activity levels are:

High blood pressure – high blood pressure is a risk factor for strokes and heart attacks. There is research suggesting a significant upward trend in blood pressure in children and teens.

High cholesterol – recent studies over the last couple years suggest that obese children have greater enlargements of their hearts. Perhaps more disturbing, another study found that the thickening of the artery walls in obese children or children with high cholesterol resemble the thickness of the arterial walls in a 45 year old.

Insulin resistance/type 2 diabetes – obese or overweight children are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes that can lead to health complications such as blindness and kidney failure.

Sleep Disorders – children who suffer from obesity are at greater risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. The serious condition causes the body to temporarily stop breathing during sleep causing the lungs to work harder.

Shortened lifespan – a study from 2005 co-authored by Dr. David Ludwig, associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard University, predicted obesity could shorten the average child's lifespan by two to five years.