September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and a good time to talk about the effects of childhood obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of obese children in the United States has tripled since the 1970s. Although a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows improving numbers, it’s still a major public health problem.
There are many factors that contribute to childhood obesity. They include genetics, metabolism, and a lack of physical activity. The causes are similar to the causes of obesity in adults, and so are the health problems associated with it.
The effects of childhood obesity on the heart (and other parts of your child’s body) can be devastating. So, let’s look at some of them and what your family can do to take steps to prevent them.
The Effects of Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity puts kids at risk for health problems. Many of them are heart-health related and include
- High Blood Pressure: This is one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). If your child is diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should take immediate steps to lower it. Early detection is critical because high blood pressure in children can also lead to kidney problems.
- High Cholesterol: Also a risk factor for heart disease, Too much cholesterol leads to the build-up of plaque on the walls of the arteries, which supply blood to the heart and other organs.
- Type 2 Diabetes: This also includes an increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance. It is uncommon before adolescence, but often has a slow, gradual onset, which can make it difficult to detect and diagnose in children. Your child’s pediatrician can arrange for a blood test to make sure their levels are not elevated.
- Breathing problems: Obese children can also develop asthma and sleep apnea.
- Joint Problems: A recent study found one of the cumulative effects of childhood obesity is how it contributes to musculoskeletal pain and bone/joint dysfunction in later life. Carrying around extra weight causes increased “wear and tear” on your child’s joints, which makes it harder to exercise.
- Fatty Liver Disease: Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease is strongly tied to childhood obesity. It can bring about many of the same health issues as excessive alcohol drinking. Researchers recently found that a sugar-rich diet might contribute to the development of early stages of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in overweight children. They find that moderate dietary counseling might improve their metabolic status.
- Gallstones: Research shows that overweight children and adolescents are at least twice as likely as their peers to have gallstones. Gallstones can block the passage of bile into your child’s intestine. Symptoms can include abdominal pain and nausea, but many with gallstones do not have symptoms.
- Heartburn: In very young children, the cause of heartburn is usually an immature digestive tract. In older children, risks include being overweight or obese.
But the effects of childhood obesity don’t stop there. Overweight and obese children are also put at an increased risk for:
- Psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
- Low self-esteem and lower self-reported quality of life.
- Social problems such as bullying and stigma
You can see the list of health-related problems caused by childhood obesity is long, but there are steps parents and children can take to decrease the risk.
How To Prevent the Effects of Childhood Obesity
To help ensure that your children maintain a healthy weight, there are many things you can do to help your children.
- Be aware of your child’s growth. The CDC provides a Body Mass Index (BMI) chart on their website that you can use as a guide. You can also learn how obesity is measured in children, by using the CDC’s Child and Teen BMI Calculator to screen your child for potential weight issues.
- Provide nutritious, lower-calorie foods such as fruits and vegetables.
- in place of foods high in added sugars and solid fats. Try serving more fruit and vegetables at meals and as snacks.
- Make sure drinking water is always available as a no-calorie alternative to sugary beverages and limit juice intake.
- Help children get the recommended amount of physical activity each day.
- Be a role model! Eat healthy meals and snacks
For many children, obesity can be prevented. Eating a sensible diet and getting enough exercise are good places to start. It not only decreases the risk but is a good strategy to implement to live a healthy life overall.
If you’d like a guide to help you and your child stay on track, take a look at our “Know Your Numbers Bundle.” You’ll find all of the important health-related numbers you need to know. From blood pressure to blood glucose, it’s all in the guide.