Childhood obesity isn’t just a problem in the United States. It’s a global health concern that has seen a dramatic surge over the past few decades. Not only does it present immediate health challenges for affected children, it also lays the groundwork for a myriad of health complications that can arise later in people as adults. TriageLogic’s Ravi Raheja, M.D. sat down to discuss the multifaceted consequences of this epidemic, and what tips pediatricians can use to encourage prevention.
Consequences of Childhood Obesity
Interviewer: What happens to children who experience childhood obesity?
Dr. Raheja: The short answer is, a lot. This kind of condition can lead to consequences that affect their physical and psychological health. It also carries implications for them in social situations and over the long term.
I: Would you elaborate on those consequences and implications? Let’s start with the influences on physical health.
R: Certainly. An immediate physical concern would be the effects on a child’s cardiovascular system. Children with obesity are at a higher risk for developing high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are both precursors to cardiovascular diseases.
Then there’s the risk for developing type 2 diabetes. This used to be considered an adults-only condition, but now we’re seeing increasing numbers of children who are being diagnosed with it due to obesity-related insulin resistance.
Next, you’ve got breathing problems like asthma and sleep apnea to consider, which are more prevalent in children who are battling obesity.
Finally, you’ve got to watch out for bone and joint issues. Excessive weight causes stress on the body’s skeletal system, which can lead to health problems like early-onset arthritis.
I: What about the psychological effects?
R: These tie in with social implications and can involve self-esteem, body image, social isolation, and behavioral and learning difficulties. I’ll elaborate a little more on each.
First, those struggling with childhood obesity often have a negative body image, which can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Then you’ve got social isolation that can take place when children feel bullied or excluded from activities due to their weight and appearance. All of this can create a diminished sense of self-worth that children then translate into negative academic performance and poor classroom behavior.
I: You also mentioned long-term consequences. Could you tell us more about what those might be?
R: Chronic disease is a big one. Childhood obesity easily becomes adult obesity, which increases the risk of developing heart disease, certain types of cancers, and — as I mentioned before — type 2 diabetes.
Once children become adults, they’ll have to think about their health in terms of the economic burden, where they can experience staggering treatment costs at both an individual or societal level.
Plus, it’s worth noting how they may have shorter lifespans than those of their parents. Why is that a big deal? Some studies suggest that this could be the first generation of children in centuries to experience this, which is arguably due — at least in part — to obesity-related issues.
The Big Picture
Interviewer: Are there factors that make children more susceptible to experiencing obesity at an early age?
Dr. Raheja: Absolutely. But it’s important to note that childhood obesity isn’t just an individual or familial issue — it’s a societal concern which is influenced by several factors.
I: Which are?
R: Let’s start with whether a child has a healthy diet. We’ve seen how easy it is for children and adolescents to have access to fast food, surgery drinks, and low-nutritional meals, all of which contribute significantly to their health.
Then there’s the matter of how much regular physical activity a child is getting. Our modern lifestyles often include more screen time on phones, tablets, and TVs for streaming shows and playing video games, while not promoting as much physical playtime for general fitness.
Genetics are also a contributing factor. Certain children may be predisposed to obesity, which is only exacerbated by a poor diet and lack of exercise.
Last, we can’t forget the child’s environment. Some are less likely to play outdoors if their neighborhoods aren’t safe, or their economic circumstances may preclude them from having access to healthier food options.
Tips for Pediatricians
Interviewer: What are some tips that pediatricians can use to prevent obesity in children?
Dr. Raheja: Before we dig into the specifics, I would like to say that when evaluating pediatric patients, healthcare providers have the unique opportunity to offer guidance and education to both children and their parents.
Those conversations will probably start by addressing juice consumption. It’s a common misconception that fruit juice is healthy because it comes from fruit, right? Well, the reality is that many juice products — especially those that aren’t labeled as 100 percent juice — end up being loaded with sugars. Those quantities quickly add up, so it’s important that parents are aware of what their children are drinking, understand how to identify hidden sugars, and know the potential risks involved with drinking too much.
Next, pediatricians can talk with parents about school meals. These have been a hot topic of debate for many years. For starters, many parents rely on them for their children to have access to enough food. But the downside can be that school-provided breakfasts and lunches tend to be high in calories and low in essential nutrients. Plus, if children aren’t taught and encouraged to eat the healthy food choices that are made available to them, it’s easy for them to choose the ones that aren’t.
The Best Way to Prevent Childhood Obesity: Be Proactive
Interviewer: Thanks for taking the time to share these tips. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to add?
Dr. Raheja: I’d only reiterate that early intervention really is the best way to prevent childhood obesity — or at least manage it better. Even a few basic educational sessions with parents and their children, especially before those children are old enough to start school, can have profound long-term benefits on their overall health.
We in the healthcare community recognize how that can be difficult for a lot of parents. What providers can do is give them the knowledge and tools to make more informed decisions about a healthier diet and increased physical activity so that they can have a better weight management plan and a better chance at a healthier future.
Are You Looking for Additional Tools and Services for Helping Pediatric Patients?
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Please contact us to discuss which services best fit your practice’s needs.
TriageLogic is a URAC-accredited, physician-led provider of top-quality nurse telehealth technology, remote patient monitoring, and medical call center solutions. Founded in 2007, the TriageLogic Group now serves more than 22,000 physicians and covers over 42 million lives nationwide.