As of 2008, the prevalence rate for childhood obesity was almost 20% in kids 2-19 years old (1). Obesity is diagnosed by a single measure, which is the Body Mass Index (BMI) percentile on the growth chart. BMI is calculated as a proportion of weight to height, and reflects how much weight a person carries for their height. BMI is categorized differently for children and adults.
For children, these are the Obesity parameters:
BMI greater than 85th percentile is diagnosed as overweight.
BMI greater than 95th percentile is diagnosed as obese.
Pediatricians or other healthcare professionals should be measuring and plotting BMI for all kids over the age of 2 at regular visits. If a child’s BMI plots higher than the 95th percentile, action needs to be taken. It is the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that obese kids need intervention to achieve a healthy weight status. Studies have shown that the most effective treatment is a multi-disciplinary, family based approach with regular, frequent visits.
The reason why it is important to seek help is because obesity is a chronic health problem. There are several comorbitities, or associated health risks, that can develop during childhood as a result of obesity:
- High blood pressure (hypertension), which is correlated with heart disease and stroke.
- High cholesterol (hyperlipidemia), which is correlated with heart disease and stroke.
- Type 2 diabetes, which was previously called “adult-onset diabetes” since it used to only be diagnosed in adults. Type 2 diabetes can lead to other health issues such as heart disease, stroke, neuropathy, kidney problems, and more.
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)- the liver is inflamed and has excessive fatty deposits in the tissue, which affects function
- Gallstones and gallbladder disease.
- Acanthosis nigricans- darkening of the skin, especially in the back of the neck, hands and knees.
- Difficulty breathing and asthma- the entire cardio-respiratory system is decompensated due to less ability to do physical activity, and more weight bearing on the heart and lungs.
- Sleep apnea- Kids (and adults) with sleep apnea have brief periods where they stop breathing several times throughout the night. The excess weight and distribution of fat on the chest and neck contribute to this. These kids to not get the benefits of sleep, and therefore are more fatigued during the day, have more difficulty concentrating in school, and may have mood and behavior disturbances due to lack of sleep.
These comorbidities can last into adulthood and impact quality of life and lifespan. Data from an NHANES follow up survey and the Bogalusa Heart Study show that 50-60% of school-age kids will be obese as adults. But for obese kids, the social issues they face during childhood are even more devastating.
Obese kids are at higher risk for:
- Low self-esteem, which can lead to poor school performance; higher likelihood to engage in “risky” behaviors; etc
One study asked kids with a variety of serious diagnoses to rate their quality of life. The obese kids reported a lower quality of life than kids with cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, cancer, type 1 diabetes, kidney transplant, irritable bowel disease, and healthy kids (2). This shows how much kids struggling with obesity need our help.
In the presidential race, two hot topics, as always, are healthcare and federal spending. The fact is, as big as these issues are now, they are going to become exponentially bigger as America’s youth carry health issues into tomorrow. That is, unless, we help take away that burden for our kids. At North Shore Pediatric Therapy, we have a multi-disciplinary team of experts who can dedicate time to your family’s health. Call to schedule an appointment today.