Prevention: Key to Stemming Childhood Obesity

A couple of months ago, the CDC reported that childhood obesity rates are leveling off in many states – that’s good news.

Here’s the not so good news:  according to the American Heart Association, children who are the heaviest are gaining more weight at an alarming rate.  This new data has led the AHA to create a new classification within the obesity spectrum among children.  Under this category are kids who have a BMI that’s at least 20% higher than the 95th percentile of other children their same height and weight.  Approximately 5& (4 million) of overweight children fall in the new, severely obese group.

Difficulties Obese Children Face

A morbidly obese child or adolescent has difficulties that can seem insurmountable.  Numerous well-documented studies have causally linked childhood obesity to a myriad of health problems:  high cholesterol, hypertension, fatty liver disease, GERD, and type-2 diabetes are among them.

In addition to physical ailments, obese children are more likely to suffer academically; late last year the journal Pediatrics reported that obese children have lower math and spelling scores.  Overall intelligence and attention flexibility are also negatively affected.

Cognitive difficulties inside the classroom may pale in comparison to what obese kids must endure on the playground.  A University of Michigan study found that obese children are 60% more likely to be bullied than children who are not overweight.  The Michigan team discovered this percentage crossed all social, racial and economic strata.  These kids are being bullied specifically because of their weight.

Prevention: It takes a Village

What is of grave concern is that once a child becomes severely obese, traditional diet and exercise programs are not particularly effective.  In the current issue of Circulation, the AHA asserts that prevention is key and the only way to reverse this trend.

Behavioral therapy blogger Christy Matta, M.A. stresses that behavioral psychologists are looking at various ways to target families, schools and children’s organizations to emphasize health and wellness.  Programs that are most effective are those that focus on positive of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and staying active instead of on what a child “can’t have.”

Another venue to consider is social media.  In a press release last December the American Heart Association urged medical professionals to take advantage of online communication and social media outlets: “Healthcare providers should embrace [social media’s] potential as a tool for promoting healthy behavioral change.”

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