September 30, 2021
Aparna Chandrasekaran, MD,
Obesity continues to be a growing issue not only for adults but also for children. The number of children affected by childhood obesity is 12.7 million, which is quite alarming. It is a serious public health problem and has to be addressed immediately for our children to grow up into healthier adults.
Obesity in children can lead to hypertension, high cholesterol, 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, increased screen time added to the calorie-dense food/beverages that are readily available to order has given rise to this epidemic.
Adolescent weight loss management involves laying a strong foundation for healthy habits and lifestyle that can be continued into adulthood. These lifestyle interventions, along with medical treatment, when indicated, will decrease the disease burden and improve the outcome. 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 approach to teen’s weight loss management involves :
- Fostering healthy lifestyles through adulthood
- Improving the quality of life and health
- Removing social stigmatization/bullying
- Improving self-esteem/self-image
- Preventing adverse health consequence
A comprehensive multidisciplinary approach with dietary, behavioral, exercise counseling has shown to be very useful. It is essential to start a dialogue with the child’s pediatrician for the evaluation and management to get to the root cause of the problem, screen for other comorbidities, and get referrals to the specialists. For children with stubborn weight that do not budge with lifestyle interventions, weight loss medications are prescribed by obesity medicine specialists. It is always advisable to keep away from OTC diet loss pills, and other fad diets. Instilling a sense of optimism, fostering a healthy lifestyle by actively involving the family members is crucial for a successful weight loss journey. Multidisciplinary collaboration with the child’s pediatrician, dietitian, psychologist, obesity medicine specialist, etc., will enable the child to lose weight in a healthy way while laying a robust foundation for life-long wellness. Wellness is a complete state of physical, emotional, and social wellbeing and not just the absence of disease. We must empower future generations with this sense of wellness to make their life’s journey a fulfilling one!