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A new large population study out of Johns Hopkins and UCLA, shows that parents can no longer kid themselves about the non-dangers of childhood obesity. In the study, researchers performed cross-sectional analysis of data on 43,297 children aged 10 to 17, noting weights and heights of the children, then assessing associations between weight status and 21 indicators of general health, psychosocial functioning, and specific health disorders. What the researchers found was sobering. 15% of US children in the study were overweight and 16% were obese. The obese children in the study were at twice the risk of their healthy weight peers of having three or more medical, mental or developmental conditions — while overweight kids had a 1.3 times higher risk of the same conditions. Most past childhood obesity studies look at the long-term, such as if your child is overweight, he’ll be at risk for diseases as an adult. But this new study is unique, as it focuses on the more immediate health consequences of childhood obesity and manages to show that overweight youth face far greater immediate and long-term health risks than previously thought. Lead author Dr. Neal Halfon, a professor of pediatrics, public health and public policy at UCLA notes:

This study paints a comprehensive picture of childhood obesity, and we were surprised to see just how many conditions were associated with childhood obesity. The findings should serve as a wake-up call to physicians, parents and teachers, who should be better informed of the risk for other health conditions associated with childhood obesity so that they can target interventions that can result in better health outcomes.

Keep reading to learn about some of the very real health consequences that obese and overweight children face.

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Health Consequences of Childhood Weight Gain

Being an overweight or obese child is associated with many negative health consequences. Some of the health problems reported in this study include the following:

  • Poorer overall postive health status.
  • Lower emotional functioning and school related problems, such as being held back a grade.
  • Higher instances of diabetes. Past studies shows a strong correlation between childhood obesity and adult diabetes, but in this study, a lot of data showed that diabetes is becoming a significant problem by age 15 to 17 and the researchers note, “The relationship between obesity and diabetes is well under way beginning in adolescence.

Most alarming were the higher rates of specific comorbid conditions reported in this study. Comorbid conditions refers to having more than one health issue associated with a primary condition, meaning obesity may lead to heart disease AND diabetes. In this study, comorbid conditions of youth included ADHD, conduct disorders, depression, learning disabilities, developmental delay,  poor teeth, bone/joint/muscle problems, asthma, allergies, headaches and ear infections. The higher a child’s weight, the more likely they were to experience a higher prevalence of comorbid conditions and greater numbers of comorbidities. Overall, higher-weight-status categories were consistently associated with more health problems for youth, a finding that many past studies back up.

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Childhood Obesity is Not an Issue We Can Ignore

In the United States, childhood obesity is often disguised with cute words like “chubby,” “husky” or “big boned.” Certain groups consider childhood obesity a non-health related issue with campaigns focused on “fat acceptance” or “people can be healthy at every size.” It’s important to love and accept all people – weight shouldn’t play a part in that and yes, it’s true that you can be an unhealthy average weight or thin person. Still, as parents who want to raise healthy, happy kids, we cannot ignore the staggering amount of research that says excess weight is unhealthy, may cause serious health problems, and yes, may even kill your child. Childhood weight is often swept under the rug and the topic is often chased away by people who claim knowledge is shaming. For example, every time anti-childhood obesity ads have been released in recent years, concerned parents and others who fear the ads may shame and harm children, launch massive campaigns to get rid of the anti-obesity ads. We saw this happen with the Strong4Life campaign in 2011, and more recently with the Blue Cross anti-obesity campaign.

Concerned citizens and others who may be in denial about childhood obesity are doing their best to make sure any and all anti-obesity ads are kept away from kids, but at what cost? Candy coating childhood obesity and hiding the truth from the public is obviously not working. How is this not working? Well, obesity rates are growing.

CDC reports show that obesity rates have tripled among youth since 1980. Currently about 17% (or 12.5 million) U.S. children and adolescents ages 2—19 years are obese (not counting kids who are overweight) but researchers further estimate that if parents continue to avoid making healthy diet and activity changes with their kids, more than one in five young people will be obese by 2020.

In case you believe that excess weight poses zero risk for kids, consider that within the last 20 years, as rates of childhood obesity have dramatically increased, so have childhood health conditions increased; conditions such as ADHD, conduct problems, learning difficulties and asthma, structural abnormalities of the brain, liver, lung, heart and musculoskeletal complications and coronary artery disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes (known collectively as metabolic syndrome) and many others. Excess childhood weight is not an imaginary problem.

As a parent you can hide from issues surrounding childhood weight, food issues, exercise and associated health issues or you can focus on creating a knowledgeable and healthy household where kids are given the chance to understand these issues and are offered ideas about how to be healthy for life. Some easy steps you can take as a parent are included below…

+ Associations Between Obesity and Comorbid Mental Health, Developmental, and Physical Health Conditions in a Nationally Representative Sample of US Children Aged 10 to 17

+ Download the pdf of this study