Pediatricians are very concerned about the growing number of overweight children for a number of reasons. Not surprisingly, obesity can limit a child’s physical activity on the playground and athletic field. But more worrisome, there are many health risks associated with being too heavy.
For example, one recent report stated that among obese children 5 to 10 years of age, 60% already had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol levels, high triglycerides (another type of blood fat), and high blood pressure. Cardiovascular-related conditions aren’t the only health problems associated with childhood obesity.
Diabetes, for example, is another increasing concern among pediatricians and parents of overweight children. That’s because a fast-growing number of newly diagnosed cases of childhood diabetes are the so-called type 2 form of the disease. Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset because it almost always affected adults, but now this form of diabetes is increasingly evolving into a disease of children and teenagers, as well. In fact, recent research has shown that between 25% and 60% of newly diagnosed diabetes in children is now type 2. Particularly if your child is obese and inactive, he has an increased risk of developing this form of the disease.
To make matters worse, if your child is overweight, he is much more likely to become an overweight adult. The statistics are unsettling—about 20% of obese 4-year-olds will grow up to become obese adults. That figure rises to 80% among teenagers who are overweight. And once your child is an adult, he’ll be more likely to have the same obesity-related health problems from high blood pressure to joint problems, as well as a greater risk of death as his weight increases. The bottom line is that obesity can cause a lifetime of very serious health concerns.
One other point is important to make: Some children become so obsessed with their excess pounds and have such a distorted body image that they begin to try unusual diets, skip meals, or eliminate food groups, further adding to unhealthy eating and poor nutrition. Rarely, some children can become so focused on their weight and body image that they may develop eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia, all because they’re trying to get their weight under control in an unhealthy way.
Your youngster’s day-to-day environment—at home, at school, at friends’ homes, and virtually everywhere else he spends time—can affect his risk of becoming and remaining overweight. The fast-food restaurants where he eats, TV programs he watches, and video games he plays can contribute to his likelihood of developing obesity. For example, the risk of being overweight is more than 4 1⁄2 times greater for children who watch more than 5 hours of TV a day, compared with children who watch no more than 2 hours a day. That’s because children are not only inactive while watching television, but they also tend to snack at the same time, often eating high-fat foods like cookies or potato chips rather than an apple or a pear. Even so, except for sleeping, most US children spend more time (outside of school hours) watching TV than participating in any other activity.