Obesity in children has become a major national health problem – one that will become even more serious as overweight kids approach their adult years.
Statistics for childhood obesity in the United States are alarming. Nearly 15 percent of children are now categorized as seriously overweight, according to a 1999 report by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control. That number is likely rising.
Pediatricians, nutritionists and other experts say that while genetics plays a role in causing the condition, unhealthy eating habits – such as the consumption of fast food and soft drinks – coupled with a lack of physical activity are significant contributing factors in the obesity trend.
The biggest concern about childhood obesity, however, may be what it means long term. Howard J. Eisenson, M.D., director of the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center, believes overweight kids are at risk for a number of serious medical problems as they grow up.
“Researchers are predicting that, instead of seeing heart disease happening in their 50s and 60s, our kids might be subject to heart disease as early as their 20s and 30s,” Eisenson says.
In addition to early cardiac problems, Eisenson sees a growing threat from another serious medical condition: diabetes.
“A staggering number of children are developing type 2 diabetes, which was previously considered an adult disease related to weight,” Eisenson says. “They’re actually developing that earlier, in some cases in their teen-age years.”
Eisenson says parents need to encourage good eating habits and increased physical activity for their children. He says parents should consult their child’s pediatrician or family physician if their child is significantly overweight.
“The implications of childhood obesity are going to be significant for our society,” says Eisenson. “It’s going to have enormous implications for healthcare in general, in terms of cost and management of the disease.”