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Kids' Healthy Weight

Effects of Obesity in Children: Why it Matters

Rates of childhood obesity continue to increase.  Children who are overweight at younger ages show signs of medical problems previously seen only in adults.  In other words, overweight children are getting “grown-up” diseases. 

Family doctors and pediatricians have not had a lot of experience with these adult conditions in children.  It is new for families, too.  It can be hard to change things for children, families, and their doctors.  It is tough to do and it is worth doing. 

Some of the health problems children face from overweight are discussed below.  These can be the reason to find the help and support you need for the best health.

 

Type 2 diabetes

For many people, type 2 diabetes is preventable.  Weight, diet, and exercise are factors that can contribute to having or not having the condition.  As lifestyle habits have changed over the years, type 2 diabetes in adults has increased.  Now, as childhood obesity is on the rise, children are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Why does this matter so much?  Diabetes can lead to complications in many organs in the body.  When type-2 diabetes starts early, the complications can start early too.  There is more time for damage to eyes, feet, heart, and kidneys.

An important study from the NIH looked at children and teens with type 2 diabetes at 15 locations nationwide.  The “TODAY” study stands for “Treatment Options for Type 2 Diabetes in Adolescents and Youth.”  Beginning in 2004, almost 700 children were involved, and results published in June 2012.  Children with type 2 diabetes seem to have more severe problems than adults with that condition.  Compared to children who are not overweight, these children:

In adults, high blood pressure and cholesterol raises risk of heart disease.  Proof now exists from studies in Europe and North America that this is true for children.  Being overweight during childhood or adolescence has been shown to significantly increase the likelihood of heart disease in adulthood.

 

Liver Damage

The liver is a major processing center for fat and other nutrients in the body.  With more fat in the diet, the liver has more work to do to process it. In some overweight people, liver cells can be damaged by the heavy traffic of fat.  This can lead to scarring or “cirrhosis” and liver failure.

 

Breathing Problems

Some children who are overweight can also develop breathing problems from being overweight.  Chief among these is disrupted sleep from “sleep apnea”.  In sleep apnea, excess fat around the airway narrows it.  This limits airflow in and out of the lungs.  The problem gets worse during sleep, when muscles relax.  This further narrows the airway, leading to decreased oxygen for the body.  If left undiagnosed and untreated, sleep apnea can damage the heart muscle and lungs.

 

Bones and Joints

Too much weight can damage bones and joints of growing children and teens.  This extra load causes pain and swelling.  It can even cause deformed joints particularly in the knees, which is known as “Blount's disease”.  The child may find it very difficult even to walk.

 

Reproductive Health of Girls and Young Women

Teen and young adult females who are overweight may also suffer difficulties with menstruation from a condition called “polycystic ovary syndrome” or PCOS.  PCOS occurs more commonly in overweight individuals.  Excess production of male hormones in their ovaries can lead to irregularity or complete stoppage of their menstrual periods.  This can lead to infertility as well.

 

Get the Help You Need

Changing things for yourself and your family can be a hard thing to do.  But it is worth it.  We are learning more everyday about things we can do together.  Get the support you need and know that every step you take towards health will be a step in the right direction.

 

This children's health content is brought to you with support from University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital.

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Last Reviewed: Jun 23, 2013

Naveen  Uli, MD Naveen Uli, MD
Associate Professor
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University