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Obesity-Related Health Problems in Kids

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD

Obesity-Related Health Problems in Kids

It's well known that childhood obesity is a risk factor for chronic diseases in adulthood. But what many parents might not realize until problems arise is that overweight and obese kids and teens often have weight-related problems during childhood.

Kids who are considered obese (with a body mass index, or BMI, at or above the 95th percentile) are at risk for:

  • obstructive sleep apnea (blocked breathing during sleep)
  • breathing problems (such as asthma and exercise intolerance)
  • type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • bone and joint problems
  • liver disease
  • elevated cholesterol and triglycerides (which are risk factors for cardiovascular problems)
  • menstrual irregularities
  • anxiety, depression, low self-esteem
  • bullying and discrimination

There's also thought to be a connection between obesity and early puberty, especially in girls. Overweight kids tend to grow faster and enter puberty earlier, and obesity might play a role in earlier onset of breast development, usually the first sign that a girl is entering puberty.

What This Means to You

The far-reaching health problems associated with obesity have dire implications for kids right now. So it's vital that parents do all they can to help kids reach and maintain a healthy weight. Being a good role model is a key part of this — let your kids see you eating healthy foods in appropriate serving sizes, enjoying treats in moderation, and exercising regularly.

And you don't have to go it alone. The health care reform legislation includes $15 billion earmarked for public health programs designed to help prevent health problems and keep Americans healthy, including $16 million that will go toward combating obesity and promoting fitness. Another provision requires "nutrient content disclosure statements" at chain restaurants, which is significant since an estimated 84% of parents take kids for fast food at least once a week. Look for calorie counts and other nutritional breakdowns listed on in-store and drive-through menus soon.

The long-term picture, of course, is still important. Kids who reach a healthy weight not only have less risk for obesity-related problems, but are more likely to avoid obesity later. Results of a recent study show that obese teens are 16 times more likely to become severely obese in adulthood compared with those who are normal weight or overweight.

Consider talking to your doctor or a nutritionist about ways to fight obesity as a family.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: December 2010