Obesity's Threats & Tips to Tame Them

Boy Eating BroccoliYou know obesity is bad for kids. But do you know just how bad? With nearly one in six children and teens obese, health problems that were once "adults only" now show up in children. Kids who weigh too much also have a heightened risk for weight-related problems as adults. Here are some key threats:

Heart Disease

Researchers estimate three out of five overweight five- to 17-year-olds have at least one risk factor for heart and circulatory diseases. Those risk factors include:

  • Abnormal cholesterol. Among 12- to 19-year-olds, surveys show 22 percent of the overweight and 43 percent of the obese have high levels of "bad" cholesterol or triglycerides (blood fats) or low levels of "good" cholesterol.
  • High blood pressure. In a study of more than 5,000 Texas children ages 10 to 19, five percent had high blood pressure. The strongest risk factor was obesity.
  • Metabolic syndrome. This collection of risk factors includes insulin resistance, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other problems. Up to half of severely obese adolescents have metabolic syndrome, which worsens the odds for heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Other Problems Linked to Children's Increased Weight

  • Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes, once rare among children, has risen dramatically.
  • Asthma: This common lung disease causes breathing difficulty.
  • Liver problems: Extra weight causes fatty degeneration of the liver, or hepatic steatosis.
  • Sleep apnea: Breathing stops repeatedly during sleep for at least 10 seconds.

Social Problems Related to Weight

Overweight children often have fewer friends and face teasing about their weight. Social discrimination and isolation can lead  to stress and low self-esteem that linger into adulthood. Their progress in school and on the job may suffer—and they may be prone to anxiety and depression.

How You Can Help

"I encourage parents to discuss their child's weight during their regular checkups," says Jeremy Erdley, MD, pediatrician and chair of the pediatrics department at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children at Sky Ridge. He also offers these tips:

  • Provide your children with reasonable portions of well-balanced meals low in fat and sugar.
  • Set specific snack times to discourage constant munching. Stock healthy snacks, such as frozen yogurt, nuts or fruit.
  • Limit the amount of sugar-filled juices and sodas you give your child.
  • Add exercise, such as hiking, biking and swimming, to weekends and vacations. Help your child find physical activities that he or she enjoys.
  • Limit TV watching to an hour or two a day. On average, children who watch at least four hours a day tend to be heavier than children who watch less than two hours.
  • Practice what you preach. Children model their parents' behavior. If you eat well and stay physically active, your children are more likely to do the same.

Is it time for your child's checkup?

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