Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
Childhood Obesity: It Doesn’t Have To Be A Life Sentence
Childhood obesity is an unnatural disaster of literally epic proportions. In years past, it was rare to see an overweight child. Most meals were eaten at home, fast food was considered an occasional treat, and kids were expected to play outdoors when not in the classroom or doing homework. Now, nearly one out of every three kids is overweight or obese. Amongst elementary school-age kids, the prevalence of obesity has soared from 4 percent to more than 20 percent over the last three decades. There is no doubt that our sedentary, fast-food lifestyle is to blame.
The tragedy is that childhood obesity sets the stage for an adulthood plagued with obesity’s complications, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and arthritis. However, a recent study of over 6300 children followed through adulthood, published in the November 17, 2011 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine, finds that childhood obesity does not necessarily have such dire consequences, if weight loss can be achieved.
Researchers incorporated data from four large studies of children, including two from the U.S., one from Australia, and one from Finland. The children were followed for about 23 years. Amongst those who had been overweight or obese as kids, nearly two out of every three were obese as adults. Of those who had been obese as kids, fully 82 percent were obese as adults. Obesity in adulthood was strongly associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, all of which increase the likelihood for heart attacks, heart failure, and stroke.
Although this is dismal news, the researchers found that those obese kids who were subsequently able to achieve and maintain a healthy weight in adulthood fared very well. Although they were more prone to high blood pressure than people who had not been obese as children, they were no more likely than other normal weight adults to develop diabetes or high cholesterol.
Obesity in childhood may not always be a life sentence, but it is clear that once obesity is established, it is very hard to reverse, and the consequences can be devastating. It is up to parents to make a difference in the lives of their children. Learn to say “no” to fast foods, snack foods, and sodas. Establish a healthy routine in the evenings that includes exercise instead of TV, snacks, and video games. Love means taking action to give your child the very best start in life.
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