Obesity is the result of caloric imbalance (too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed) and is mediated by genetic, behavioral and environmental factors. Childhood obesity is a major health problem worldwide and is increasing by the day. It has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008. The prevalence of obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years increased from 5.0% to 18.1%. Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term health risks.
The most immediate consequence of being overweight as perceived by children themselves is social discrimination and low-self-esteem. In a study performed by Schwimmer, et.al. (2003), obese children rated their quality of life with scores as low as those of young cancer patients on chemotherapy. In the study, 106 children aged 5 to 18 filled out a questionnaire used by pediatricians to evaluate quality of life issues. Children were asked to rate things like their ability to walk more than one block, play sports, sleep well, get along with others and keep up in school. The results indicated that that teasing at school, difficulties playing sports, fatigue, sleep apnea and other obesity-linked problems severely affected obese children’s well-being. Interestingly, parents answered the same questionnaires, and their ratings of their children’s well-being were even lower than the children’s self-ratings. If the condition is not carefully managed, it can lead to isolation and depression.
It is very easy in this day for children to become overweight for several reasons. Readily available high-caloric foods (fast food chains and confectionery) play a crucial role, lack of exercise (children no longer walk or ride their bikes to school) and the stationary activities like television and computer games are often to blame. To correct these areas, parents need to get back to basics and change the routine. They can develop healthy eating habits and establish a regular exercise regime to change weight problems before several physical problems will most likely occur. These physical conditions and diseases include:
- Asthma — A large number of children who are overweight have asthma.
- Diabetes — Type 2 diabetes, formerly known as adult onset diabetes, has become increasingly prevalent among overweight children and adolescents. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that one in three American children born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime.
- Gallstones — The incidence of gallstones is significantly higher in those who are obese.
- Heart Disease — Early indicators of atherosclerosis — also known as hardening of the arteries — begin as early as childhood and adolescence in children with risk factors. Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of heart disease. It is related to high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which are associated with poor eating habits and overweight.
- High Blood Pressure — Overweight children are more likely to have high blood pressure that can strain the heart.
- Liver Problems— People who are obese are at higher risk for a liver problem called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which can lead to cirrhosis.
- Menstrual Problems— Being overweight may cause a girl to reach puberty at an earlier age. Also, obesity may contribute to uterine fibroids or menstrual irregularities later in life.
- Trouble Sleeping — Children who are overweight are at risk for obstructive sleep apnea, which is a serious, potentially life-threatening breathing disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. Over a long period of time, this can lead to heart failure.
Between 25 percent and 40 percent of children who are overweight will have metabolic syndrome, which sets the stage for diabetes and heart problems. Metabolic syndrome includes abnormal lipids, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and obesity. The good news is that the health problems associated with metabolic syndrome respond well to diet and exercise. When children lose weight — even modest amounts of weight — it can reverse the negative effects of metabolic syndrome. Diet is not to be taken lightly either. It is always a good idea to follow a diabetic diet for the right types of food and the proper amount of caloric intake; these two factors alone can prevent childhood obesity and the associated health risks that accompany this most unfortunate condition.