Ask the experts
What are the risks of childhood obesity?
I am so happy to see increasing interest in this most serious childhood problem. Obesity has always been a problem in modern society, but in just the last 30 years or so, it has become epidemic, rising from 4% to 5% of all children and adolescents in 1963-1970 to over 15% in 1999-2000.
The complications of obesity are astounding:
Type 2 diabetes, previously found almost entirely in adulthood and thought to be unusual in children, now accounts for up to 44% of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes in childhood, paralleling the increase in the prevalence of obesity.
The occurrence of sleep apnea (obstruction of the airway in sleep resulting in a serious drop in blood oxygen levels) is much greater in obese children. This condition can be associated with nighttime bedwetting, difficulty rising in the morning, poor school performance, and many other disorders. And the fatigue that this sleep disorder brings about can make it more difficult for the child to be physically active, making the obesity even worse.
Several bone and joint disorders in childhood are related to obesity, the most serious being a slippage of the growth plate in the hip bone called "slipped capital femoral epiphysis."
But above all, I feel that the most serious damage done in obesity is to the child's self-esteem and self-confidence! Our society places an extreme prejudice against the obese person, especially the obese child. Our self-image is developed during our formative early years of childhood; if that image is one of obesity, it is extremely difficult to lose that image in later years, increasing the likelihood that an obese child will become an obese adult.
Take your child to your doctor and address your concerns about the possibility of obesity, have your doctor determine your child's body mass index (BMI) to define the degree of "overweightness," and ask if any of the complications that I've listed above might already exist. Then develop a plan to change things for the better. There will never be a more important gift that you could give your child!
Medically reviewed by Margaret A. Walsh, MD; Board Certification in Pediatrics
"Clinical evaluation of the obese child and adolescent"