Another epidemic: pediatric obesity
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that the prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity has tripled since the 1970s.
In America’s health rankings for obesity by state, South Carolina ranked No. 37 with 34.3% of the adult population in 2019, according to the United Health Foundation.
The American Medical Association declared obesity a disease in 2012. Before that declaration, obesity was not a covered complaint when seeking medical help.
Pediatric obesity in the modern sense refers to children who are both overweight and obese, as identified by their body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated by dividing a child’s weight by his or her height. Overweight is defined as a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and lower than the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.
Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has a BMI Percentile Calculator for Children and Teens at cdc.gov/healthyweight/bmi/calculator.html.
Children who are obese often suffer from depression and bullying. In addition, it can cause endocrine, cardiovascular, orthopedic, renal, pulmonary, neurological, respiratory, gastrointestinal and psychosocial problems in children. It can also increase the risk of developing a hernia, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), stress incontinence and gynecological malignancy.
Additionally, obese children will likely become obese adults. If preschoolers are obese, they have a 33% chance that they will be obese as adults. A school ager has a 50% risk, and an adolescent has an 80% to 90% risk. Adult obesity is associated with numerous health problems including Type II diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, cancer, joint disease, gallbladder disease and pulmonary disease.
There are many causes of pediatric obesity. We know that weight is gained by an energy imbalance, when caloric intake is increased and physical activity is decreased. Additionally, in today’s culture, junk food is both easily accessible and heavily promoted by stars with sponsorships. Families are on the go and often find it easier to get a meal at a fast food drive-through. The lure of electronic devices, television and video games can outweigh the old-fashioned ways we used to play outside.
Prevention is the key, and prevention actually begins prenatally. Gestational diabetes and maternal smoking can predispose children to becoming obese. After that, we need to be aware of our children’s body mass iIndex (BMI) and raise concern if it begins to rapidly increase. If your family has a history of obesity, your child also has a greater risk of becoming obese: 30% chance if one parent, 90% chance if both parents are obese.
Nutritional guidance is also important and needs to be a family effort. Encourage children to drink water and limit sweet beverages. Fruits and vegetables are filling and lower calorie alternatives. Sticking to structured mealtimes and eating as a family also help children stay on track.
Engage children in active play and physical activity instead of more sedentary activities like watching television or playing on the computer or video games.
Parents need to be positive role models. Eating healthy needs to be a family priority, not just something the children stick to. Limit both eating out and eating in front of the television.
Managing pediatric obesity
Treatment can start with a physical exam by the child’s physician and setting obtainable goals. Education is necessary to achieve those goals, and counseling may help as well. Your child also might be referred to a pediatric endocrinologist for specialized care tailored to your child’s goals and needs.
Know your child’s health risks and stay proactive in keeping the child healthy.
Dr. Deidre Tyson is a pediatric endocrinologist with McLeod Pediatric Endocrinology. She is board certified in pediatric endocrinology and pediatrics. McLeod Pediatric Endocrinology is located in McLeod Medical Park East at 101 William H. Johnson Street, Suite 420. It can be reached at 843-777-5701.