Childhood Obesity: Do You Know The Risks?

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The rates of childhood obesity have skyrocketed in recent years, and it’s no wonder. Between busy academic and social calendars and more time spent in front of screens, children are less active than they used to be. They’re also more stressed.

The natural outlet for stress is exercise, but with plenty of homework each night, many kids don’t have time for physical activity. Add our convenience-food culture to the mix, where families grab food on the go, and it’s not surprising American kids are getting heavier. Even active kids can’t out-exercise a bad diet, particularly when you consider they would have to run for about a half hour just to burn the amount of calories in one juice box!

That’s a big problem, particularly since for many kids, being overweight isn’t just a phase. In fact, researchers suspect kids’ developing bodies are especially vulnerable to the negative health effects of childhood obesity, placing them at risk for chronic disease—both now and years down the line. Among the top concerns:

  1. Heart disease. Kids who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and abnormal blood sugar levels. Over time, those risk factors can cause plaque to build up on artery walls, which contributes to the risk of heart attack and stroke later in life. Typically, we don’t see hardened arteries until someone reaches their 50s or 60s, but today we’re seeing kids in their teens who have plaque buildup. That means their hearts have to work harder to pump blood throughout the body.
  2. Type 2 diabetes. While type 2 diabetes has risen to epidemic levels among adults, it is also increasingly being recognized in children and adolescents due to childhood obesity. The condition affects the way your child’s body responds to insulin, which leads to increased glucose (sugar) in the blood. The red flag: Children and adolescents who develop diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease and kidney failure.
  3. Sleep apnea. Does your child snore? He could be suffering from sleep apnea, a breathing disorder in which people stop breathing for 10 seconds or more during sleep. The condition is more common in overweight and obese children because they have more soft tissue around the esophagus. This soft tissue actually folds in over the airway so the child doesn’t get adequate oxygen. In addition to the health risks involved with sleep apnea, children also tend to suffer from sleepiness during the school day, which can impact academic performance.
  4. Social anxiety. The sad reality is, childhood obesity may lead to bullying, which can cause depression and low self-esteem—and that can affect school performance. Not only do overweight children struggle to keep up with peers physically, they also stand out because they’re not able to follow the same fashion trends.

To ensure your child stays within a normal weight range, schedule regular well visits with your pediatrician and keep track of your child’s growth chart. Make sure you know your child’s height, weight and body mass index. Depending where your child falls, ask your pediatrician whether screening for heart disease and type 2 diabetes is warranted.

But even if your child’s numbers are on the heavier side, don’t put him or her on a weight reduction diet. Instead, shift the culture of your home so every family member makes healthier decisions. Remove calorie-rich foods and stock the fridge with fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. Help kids stay active with a nightly after-dinner stroll. And limit screen time (including TV, computers and other electronic devices) to no more than 2 hours daily. Reducing the amount of sedentary time will make a substantial dent in the battle of the bulge.

Perhaps most important, make sure you model healthy behaviors, since children imitate adults. Implementing small, simple changes can go a long way toward creating a healthier household. Sit down as a family and come up with one thing you can do to improve your collective health over the next month. Then, stick to it!


For more healthy, family-friendly ideas, download the new app — 5-2-1-0 Kids! The app provides healthy indoor games and teaches children the importance of healthy habits.

Categories: FeelWell