About one third of children and teens in the United States could be designated as obese. The American Heart Association (AHA) states that the rate tripled in a forty-year period beginning in 1971. This complicated issue that relates directly to cardiovascular health has surpassed smoking and drug abuse in the ranking of health concerns of parents regarding their children.
Childhood obesity not only causes problems for young people during youth but will have a long-range impact into their adult lives if not treated. The issues obese children face can extend from high blood pressure and cholesterol rates to emotional, personality and self-esteem problems.
Additionally, some of the health problems created by childhood obesity may not surface until adulthood. High cholesterol and blood pressure lead to stroke, coronary heart disease and heart attacks.
How is childhood obesity defined?
Excess body fat determines obesity in children and teens. Using the Body Mass Index (BMI), a person’s height and weight are considered in determining excess body fat. It should also be noted that there is a difference between being overweight and being obese. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), growth charts that take a child’s age, sex, height, weight and growth rate should be used by physicians when determining BMI for those age 2 through age 20.
Factors including larger body frames or the fact that some children carry more weight at different stages of development play a part in determining obesity. That means that some children may weigh more than normal but are not necessarily obese. Physicians should look at those characteristics during assessment. CDC defines obesity in young people at 95% or above the normal BMI rate for those of the same age. Those at or above 85% but below 95% are considered overweight.
Physical and emotional impact
In addition to high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, risks to a child’s cardiovascular system caused by obesity, the probability of developing Type 2 diabetes increases. Other results of childhood obesity include the development of asthma, sleep apnea and bone/joint problems.
Emotional and mental effects of childhood obesity can be very painful, too. Low self-esteem, anxiety and depression are not uncommon. Beyond these emotional and psychological issues within the young person, bullying of obese children by others may also occur.
Treatment of childhood obesity also aids in prevention
There are steps to limit the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems in children. Among dietary methods is a proper diet that avoids sugar and high-calorie foods. Lean meats, poultry, fish help, as do whole grains, vegetables and fruit. Low-fat or non-fat dairy products aid in treatment and prevention. How meals are served is also important. Family meals without the distraction of television are recommended.
The cardiovascular system at all ages is strengthened by exercise but developing an active lifestyle early can help to treat childhood obesity and to prevent obesity in adulthood.
Not only does physical activity help in weight loss, but it also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol rates, ensuring that the heart and blood vessels can properly pump and allow blood to flow unimpeded throughout the vascular system. This can be accomplished by encouraging team sports, including swimming and soccer, or other activities that require physical effort, such as dancing. Jumping rope, brisk walking and just playing tag all serve to treat obesity.
Sedentary time for children should be discouraged. “Screen time,” including watching television, playing computer games, etc., should be limited. In fact, no television at all for children ages two and under is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Medications for children with childhood obesity are prescribed sparingly but are available. Similarly, weight loss surgery is available in extreme cases.
The most important element in the treatment and prevention of childhood obesity is parental involvement, along with careful observation and consultation with the physician or cardiologist on what will work best in each individual case.
To learn more about childhood obesity, prevention and treatment options, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.