The Latest News on the Fight Against Childhood Obesity
In the past year, two long-term studies on the causes, cure and cost of childhood obesity have published preliminary results. The challenge is that the information from these independent studies are reporting conflicting information, making it difficult to decipher if one study is more accurate over another, or if testing criteria and reporting methods are simply too varied to compare "apples to apples."
The biggest difference between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study to that of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is the percentage at which the rate of childhood obesity is dropping, especially in preschool-aged children. Reports that there has been significant progress made, in lowering the rates of childhood obesity, may have been premature. After both studies were further examined, researchers agreed that more data is needed. At the end of the day, they most agreed upon percentage, which shows that 17 percent of all children meet the qualifications for being obese.
However, logically it makes sense that behavior can be changed more quickly when addressed at a young age. Early intervention is tough, particularly given the fact that most obese children have overweight or obese parents. Asking parents, who have likely struggled with weight their entire lives, to monitor and change the way they feed their young child is a tough hill to climb. While the willingness to try has been present among study participants, the results vary based on how actively the parent is working on their own weight loss. Despite the varying results, it is encouraging to see that progress can be made, especially when addressed at a young age.
What do the studies agree on?
Setting aside the percentage of children who are at risk for obesity, the alarming news is that the obese children and adults are getting heavier. The heaviest children are the ones who will end up with greater health issues as adults. Experts agree that all obese children are at risk for obesity and health consequences as adults. Severely obese children are also at risk for immediate problems, such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels and sleep apnea.
Lee Michael Kaplan, a gastroenterologist who directs an obesity treatment program at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the trend toward higher weights among those who are obese has been seen in both children and adults in previous studies.
"These children are really on track to become the sickest adults," Robinson said in a USA Today article, published in April of this year. "I think it's real," he said. "People are getting heavier and heavier. The problem is not going away."
The cost of childhood obesity
There is also a very real financial cost to obesity—in addition to the emotional toll obese children pay by being bullied, teased and less able to be as active as their classmates and friends.
Medical experts agree the cost of medical care for obese children is significantly higher. According to the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the lifetime cost of medical care for an obese child is $19,000 more than the cost of care for a child of healthy weight.
Other trending news...
• In the UK, Action on Sugar, a healthy lifestyles campaign group, is calling for new rules to be introduced regarding the consumption of sugar, as well as for marketing so-called junk food products to young people. This grassroots team has published a seven-point plan—detailing what kind of action it would like the government to take in relation to this matter—in an attempt to lower obesity levels and improve the wellbeing of the nation's children.
According to an article published on actionsalt.org.uk, Public Health Nutritionist for Action on Sugar Katharine Jenner said: "The underlying cause of obesity in children is the processed food and drink environment—calling it 'personal responsibility' just doesn't wash any more."
In the article, she also said that taking action and using the "evidence-based tools at our disposal, including taxation, reformulation, limiting the availability of unhealthy food at checkouts and to stop allowing the marketing of unhealthy foods to children."
• According to a recent study, taking antidepressants during pregnancy can increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Researchers from McMaster University in Canada found a correlation between the use of the medication fluoxetine during pregnancy and an increased risk of obesity and diabetes in children. Currently, up to 20 percent of woman in the United States and approximately 7 percent of Canadian women are prescribed an antidepressant during pregnancy.
"Obesity and Type 2 diabetes in children are on the rise and there is the argument that it is related to lifestyle and availability of high-calorie foods and reduced physical activity, but our study has found that maternal antidepressant use may also be a contributing factor to the obesity and diabetes epidemic," Alison Holloway, the study's senior investigator and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at McMaster University, said on July 8 in a news release.
• Ending on a high note, education and awareness of childhood obesity is helping. More and more programs are being developed to not only study the obese child, but to interact and intervene in an effort to change the path of lifelong obesity. A quick Google search for programs can help you down a different path with your own child, if necessary, or perhaps offer a way to educate at-risk children and families you may wish to help.