Kids with untreated obesity are at increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease later, according to a new study. The report says that even without other cardiovascular risk factors, obesity is linked to blood abnormalities that can predispose obese kids to heart diseases in early adulthood.
Researchers from the Nemours Children's Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, whose findings were reported at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, concluded that "the unhealthy consequences of excess body fat start very early in childhood."
With childhood obesity rates skyrocketing, the researchers looked to see whether overweight kids were, like adults, at risk for certain heart and blood vessel diseases. They found that obesity could indeed put youngsters on the road to developing cardiovascular diseases later in life — and years earlier than they affected previous generations.
They urge parents and doctors to more aggressively intervene to control weight in kids who are obese.
What This Means to You
About 32% of kids and teens are considered overweight or obese — an alarming statistic that should give every parent pause. Yet a 2008 study found that many parents had no idea — or weren't at all worried — that their kids were considered obese.
And research shows kids are also increasingly getting all kinds of typically adult obesity-linked conditions, like type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), unhealthy cholesterol levels, and metabolic syndrome (a combination of obesity-related conditions that lead to the early onset of heart and blood vessel diseases).
More than half of the kids (some as young as 10) in a late 2008 study had cardiovascular systems that looked more like those of middle-aged adults — a major red flag for heart disease, the No. 1 killer of men and women.
So it's important to seek medical advice if you think your child might be overweight or obese — just as you would if you thought your child had any other medical condition.
Ask about your child's most recent BMI, which doctors usually start calculating at regular checkups from 2 years old on up. Some physicians may even be hesitant to bring up weight concerns for fear of offending parents — and their kids. But don't be afraid to act as your child's best health advocate by starting the discussion yourself.
The key to keeping kids of all ages at a healthy weight is taking a whole-family approach. It's the "practice what you preach" mentality. Make healthy eating and exercise a family affair.
Tips to keep in mind:
- Don't reward kids for good behavior or try to stop bad behavior with sweets or treats. Don't talk about "bad foods" or completely eliminate all sweets and favorite snacks from kids' diets. Kids may rebel and overeat forbidden foods outside the home or sneak them in on their own.
- Encourage a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of regular exercise and a nutritious diet that's short on sugar and fat, and long on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and calcium-rich foods.
- Limit screen time (TV, movies, computer, video games) to no more than 2 hours of quality programming a day for kids over age 2.
- Don't maintain a clean-plate policy. Let kids follow their own hunger cues. Even babies who turn away from the bottle or breast send signals that they're full. If kids are satisfied, don't force them to continue eating. Reinforce the idea that they should only eat when they're hungry.
If you eat well, exercise regularly, and incorporate healthy habits into your family's daily life, you're modeling a healthy lifestyle for your kids that will last. Talk to them about the importance of eating well and being active, but make it a family affair that will become second nature for everyone.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2009