Obesity is a serious health problem that is rising at an alarming rate in children. According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents aged 2-19 years in 2017-2020 was 19.7% and affected 14.7 million children. The prevalence rate was inversely proportional to the socioeconomic and educational status of the household. Obesity is a complex disease and many factors like genetics, environment, and behavior play a big role. Access to affordable healthcare, healthy food, and safe places to exercise could contribute largely to this growing epidemic in children from lower socioeconomic families.
Obesity in children can lead to hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes in addition to other psychosocial problems. Although type 2 diabetes prevalence in children was very low a few decades back, recent reports estimated 15% of newly diagnosed diabetes among children and adolescents. Similarly, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, etc., predominantly diseases of adulthood, are slowly creeping into our younger population, mainly due to obesity.
Besides, children with obesity suffer from many behavioral problems like anxiety, depression, emotional eating, and attention deficit. The social impact of obesity on these children can range from weight stigmatization to bullying. Children with obesity are ostracized and bullied at a higher rate than their peers with normal weight. The quality of life for these children is poor; in fact, found to be poorer than the children with cancer. The physical, emotional, and social consequence of obesity on these children is enormous and can lead to lasting repercussions
A lifestyle that fosters decreased physical activity, and increased screen time added to the calorie-dense food/beverages that are readily available to order has given rise to this epidemic. Hence it is very important to build a strong foundation for a healthier lifestyle that will promote good health for these children through adulthood. Studies have shown that children with obesity who attain normal weight before adulthood have an outcome similar to adults who have never suffered from weight issues.
The goals of the treatment interventions are:
- Educate children and parents about lifestyle modifications including healthy cooking, encouraging physical activity, improving sleep, and addressing behavioral issues.
- Improving the quality of life, self-esteem, and confidence
- Stop bullying and weight-bias
- Prevent weight-related adverse events
Management of obesity/overweight is as complex as the disease. It involves a multidisciplinary approach with nutritionists, pediatricians, psychologists, and educators. For children with stubborn weight that does not respond to lifestyle modifications alone, referral to an obesity medicine specialist will ensure a structured and successful weight loss. Children are our future; hence it is paramount to lay a healthy foundation upon which they can thrive lifelong. The first step towards it is to empower them with tools and knowledge for a healthier lifestyle.
For more information on pediatric obesity, visit OMA’s pediatric resources page.