What do 8.9 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds, 17.5 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.5 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. have in common? Aside from big worries that sooner or later “SpongeBob Squarepants” will get canceled and a love of all things digital, those are the numbers of obese American kids — a total of 12.7 million. (Many more are overweight.)
Overweight and obese kids are risky business: Being overweight or obese as a child comes with a roster of adult-sounding health woes that could make Americans’ declining longevity accelerate dramatically. Obese children risk cardiovascular damage and heart disease, asthma, joint and muscle problems, emotional distress, sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes.
Heart risks: In fact, 60 percent of overweight and obese kids have at least one cardiovascular risk factor: high blood pressure, elevated lousy LDL cholesterol or triglycerides, or elevated insulin levels. And 20 percent have two or more! The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2006 found that the prediabetes rate of overweight adolescents was 2.6 times higher than for those with normal weight. Prediabetes and diabetes are both huge risk factors for high blood pressure, heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and stroke, not to mention premature cognitive dysfunction and death.
Asthma: A meta-analysis found that overweight and obese children have a 40 to 50 percent increased risk of developing asthma.
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Sleep apnea: Reports indicate that up to 60 percent of obese kids suffer from this condition, which puts them at risk for everything from respiratory distress to high blood pressure, a-fib and emotional disturbances.
Psychosocial risks: The Millennium Cohort Study indicates that childhood obesity may trigger emotional and behavioral problems from a young age, especially for boys. And a recent study from the U.K. found that kids who gained excess weight were likely to have irregular bedtimes and skip breakfast. By age 11, the overweight kids began to have emotional problems, trouble with their peers and low self-esteem. After that, in preteen years, they were far more likely to use alcohol and smoke cigarettes.
Muscle and bone/joint problems: Multiple studies show that overweight kids have all kinds of foot, ankle, leg and knee problems, leading to sedentary behavior and more weight gain.
All Grown Up, and Then What?
That is a list of what’s afflicting overweight and obese kids, but health hazards increase as they get older. Think about it: Being overweight or obese during childhood leads to being overweight or obese as an adult, and the duration of obesity-related diseases is increased by one to two decades. That means adult health problems hit sooner and harder.
What can you do if you have a child who is overweight or obese? Turns out that childhood obesity is a family issue and one that can be managed only if the whole family participates in upgrading lifestyle habits. You can change your child’s future if you take a few simple steps and stick with them:
▪ Set a schedule and establish some rules. Have regular mealtimes, bedtimes and playtimes. It does a body good!
▪ Upgrade your nutritional habits. Have your kids shop with you at the grocery store (take a shopping list and stick to it), and ask them to help cook dinners (when kids make a veggie, they’re more likely to eat it). Then sit down together and enjoy — no TV, no phones!
Need help figuring out what you can cook that’s healthy, affordable and relatively easy? Google “Cleveland Clinic Recipes” for a list of everything from beverages to side dishes, entrees and desserts. Or for quick and healthy choices, Google “Dr. Oz 30 Minute Meals.”
▪ Get movin’. Start a family walking program (check out sharecare.com for routines). Begin with 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes after dinner; longer on weekends. Make time to play with your kids, throwing a ball, rollerblading, swimming — just get to it. Kids need at least 90 minutes a day of activity, and so do you!
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.