By: Steven Reinberg
If your children struggle with their weight, new research suggests they may also suffer from diseases once seen only in adults.
Stiffening of the arteries, which can lead to early heart attacks and strokes, and type 2 diabetes were found in many of the more than 600 obese children, adolescents and young adults studied. And the problem is only getting worse: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the pandemic obesity among American children has jumped from 19% to 22%.
“We’re all very well aware that childhood, adolescence and adulthood obesity rates are quite staggering, and the risk for related chronic diseases is quite pervasive,” said senior researcher Joseph Kindler, an assistant professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Georgia in Athens. “Unfortunately, we’re at a point that we’re able to see these really severe complications earlier and earlier in the lifespan. Our youngest participant in this study was 10 years old — it’s pretty phenomenal, unfortunately.”
Kindler said that what early diabetes and heart disease mean for these children as they get older isn’t known, but he fears that they may have a heightened risk for chronic conditions as adults.
Childhood obesity isn’t caused by just one factor, he said. A combination of an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, lack of sleep and genetics probably all play a part, Kindler noted.
“Some of these factors are eating a healthy diet and physical activity, but some things that aren’t often talked about, like are we sleeping or are we stressed or other factors, also contribute,” he said. “So they’re all very much a part of the story. And it makes it very important as we move forward to think about the unique period of history we’re living in where this is all coming to the fore.”
Turning the tide on the obesity epidemic won’t be easy, he added.
“These data serve as a call to arms of, look, we have problems that are occurring with the development of chronic health conditions that in some sense can be prevented, but it’s more than just consuming a couple of pieces of fruit or vegetables,” Kindler said. “It really does require a significant amount of mindfulness from individuals, families and communities.”
The bottom line is that there needs to be a cultural change, he said.
The report was published online recently in the journal Pediatric Obesity.
Sharon Zarabi is a dietitian and program director of Northwell Health’s Katz Institute for Women’s Health in New York City. She said, “It is a sad, yet expected, phenomenon with the prevalence of adult-onset disease affecting our youth. With the ease of access to processed foods, lack of physical activity, increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, it is no surprise that obesity is increasing at multifold rates in adolescents. What is striking is that the human body, no matter what the age, is not resilient enough to fight the damage being done.”