Entries in Childhood Obesity (36)


Experts Weigh In on Childhood Obesity

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Obesity in America is a growing problem, and not just in adults.  

More than a third of the children and adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese, according to 2010 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  And since 1980, the number of obese children and adolescents has almost tripled, a jump attributed in part to poor food choices and insufficient physical activity.

Despite the ballooning problem, parents and doctors often find the topic of childhood obesity difficult to discuss.  To start the conversation, ABC News’ chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser hosted a Twitter Chat on the subject Tuesday.  Experts from the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as clinicians, parents and others with personal experience joined in the one-hour discussion.

Here are some of the highlights:

The Risks Are Overwhelming

“Childhood obesity affects every organ system in the body,” tweeted Dr. Seema Kumar, the director of the Pediatric Weight Management Program at Mayo Clinic.

The risks include diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  In fact, roughly 70 percent of obese youth are thought to have at least one risk factor for heart disease, according to the CDC.  What’s more, experts agree that obese youth are at high risk of becoming obese adults, prompting even more health problems, including joint disease, heart disease, sleep apnea and certain cancers.

The health risks of obesity are not only physical, they’re psychological as well.  Childhood obesity has been linked to depression, anxiety and poor self-esteem.

“Overweight children are also more likely to be bullied,” tweeted Thomas McInerny, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Schools, Government Play a Critical Role

Tweeters agreed that it would be beneficial if the government funded programs to promote healthy food choices, rather than pay the heavy consequences of obesity in the future.

“Obesity costs $7.6 billion/yr in NY,” tweeted Montefiore Medical Center.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on super-sized sugary drinks was shot down on Monday just before going into effect.  But some Twitter chat participants still strongly support the move to limit these drinks.

“Sugary drinks are a major source of empty calories and contribute to kids gaining weight,” tweeted James Marks, senior vice president and director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Group.

Schools need to do their part to ensure that children are making healthy choices, some experts said.  On top of offering healthy choices in the cafeteria, schools also need to pay attention to snacks and class parties, according to Angela Haupt, health and wellness editor for U.S. News and World Report.

Prevention Is Easier than Treatment

Preventing obesity is essential, experts said, as treating obesity is extremely difficult.  It’s important to promote healthy food choices and physical activity.

“Lack of exercise is [a] big risk factor for being overweight,” McInerny tweeted.  “Need at least 1hr [of]exercise 5 days/wk.”

McInerny also shared the 5-2-1-0 formula: 5 fruits and vegetables; less than 2 hours of screen time; 1 hour of exercise; and 0 sugary drinks.

Parent support is also critical.  Healthy food choices and regular physical activity should be promoted as a lifestyle, not a diet.  Experts encouraged parents to sit down with their kids for meals and involve kids in food shopping and preparation.  And because parents are role models for children, they need to be conscious of their own eating and activity patterns.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Childhood Obesity: Is 7 Too Young to Diet?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When Dara-Lynn Weiss' daughter Bea went for her annual checkup at age 7, the pediatrician pronounced her obese.  In one year, Bea had gained 23 pounds and her blood pressure had bumped up significantly.

Weiss' solution was to put Bea on a calorie-restricted diet, an experience she chronicled first in a magazine article then in a bestselling book, The Heavy.

Weiss said her decision to slash portion sizes, place limits on even healthy foods like fruit, and occasionally replace high calorie fare with Diet Coke and low fat Cool Whip, drew immediate judgment from other parents.

"There were parents who felt there should be no curtailing of what a child eats, while others felt Bea's problems could be solved by removing all unhealthy foods in any amount," Weiss said.  "Then there were people who thought we should just wait for it to even out instead of intervening."

But despite the backlash Weiss endured, there is some support in the medical community for her actions.

"Those who criticized her may not have been thinking through the consequences of obesity and may believe they could do it differently but so many kids need help getting on the right track," said Dr. James Marks, a pediatrician who is s senior vice president at the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation in Princeton, N.J.

Marks said that, while asking a young child to cut calories might seem a bit extreme and he doesn't give the idea blanket support, we live in a highly "obesogenic" world that sometimes call for parents to be more aggressive about ensuring their kids eat healthy foods in reasonable portion sizes.  Every place from school to restaurants to birthday parties, kids are faced with huge helpings of calorie-dense, low nutrition foods, he pointed out.

Sema Kumar, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., agreed that it's sometimes appropriate to place a young child struggling with weight on a diet.

"Whether you recommend weight loss or weight maintenance is determined by the age of the child, severity of obesity and any obesity-related health conditions the child has," she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children ages 2-18 whose weight falls in the "overweight" category be put on a weight maintenance program to slow the progress of weight gain.  Children ages 6-11 classified as obese can be put on a diet for gradual weight loss of no more than a pound a month.  Children under 11 who are in the 99th percentile for weight and classified as severely obese, and older children who are obese or severely obese, should aim for a weight loss of up to two pounds a month.

Kumar also expressed concerns that placing children on overly restrictive diets could lead to health problems down the road such as stunted growth, delayed puberty and osteoporosis.  It might also promote negative body image and low self esteem.

On the other hand, remaining obese also has its risks.  Obese and overweight children are at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  And one recent Pediatrics study found that by the third grade, obese kids were 65 percent more likely to be bullied than their peers of normal weight, leaving them at greater risk for depression and anxiety.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


First Lady Sees 'Movement' in Improving Childhood Obesity

Ida Mae Astute/ABC(NEW YORK) -- As she celebrates the third anniversary of her Let's Move! initiative, first lady Michelle Obama told ABC's Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts that the country is seeing real "movement" on the issue of childhood obesity.

"We've really changed the conversation in this country.  When we started, there were a lot of people in this country who would have never thought that childhood obesity was a health crisis.  But now we're starting to see some movement on this issue," the first lady told Roberts.  "Our kids are eating better at school.  They're moving more.  And we're starting…to see a change in the trends.  We're starting to see rates of obesity coming down like never before."

"What we're seeing is that there's hope, and when a nation comes together, and everyone is thinking about this issue and trying to figure out what role they can play, then we can see changes," she said.

Mrs. Obama is set to embark on a star-studded national tour this week to promote and celebrate her Let's Move! initiative.  Her first stop will be in Clinton, Miss., on Wednesday, as she appears at an event highlighting healthy school lunches with Rachael Ray.

"I'm going back to Mississippi because when I first went there, Mississippi was considered one of the most unhealthy states in the nation," Mrs. Obama said.

"If we could fry water in Mississippi, we would, we would do that," Roberts, who grew up in Pass Christian, Miss., said.  "Food is a culture."

"But the good news in Mississippi is that they've seen a decline in childhood obesity of 13 percent, so we're gonna go celebrate and highlight what has been going on there.  There's still work to do," the first lady said.

On Thursday, the first lady will travel to her hometown of Chicago, where she will be joined by Olympic gymnasts and tennis star Serena Williams to promote more physical activity in schools.  Later in the day, Mrs. Obama will discuss healthy food choices at a Walmart store in Springfield, Mo.

Mrs. Obama said she will announce a new initiative called the "My Plate Recipe Partnership," which will provide families with online access to healthy recipes that meet the My Plate guidelines, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's replacement of the food pyramid.

"More and more chefs, more and more food companies are understanding that they have to find ways to help families do this in a way that's gonna taste good, that kids are gonna like it," she said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Obesity Rates Among Preschoolers Declining, Study Suggests

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Have parents and pediatricians gotten the message about the dangers of obesity in young kids?  A new study out Tuesday suggests that the obesity rates of kids ages 2 to 4 may be declining for the first time in 12 years.

According to data from the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, there's been a steady increase in obesity since doctors began monitoring kids nationwide in 1998.  But in 2010, rates among kids in low-income families were down, with 30,000 fewer kids registering obese than the year before.

"This was actually the first national study that showed a slight decrease in the rate of obesity in preschool age children living in low-income families," ABC Medical Contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton says.

While that's a step in the right direction, it's just the tip of the iceberg, Ashton points out.

"[The] good news of this study is that it does appear that possibly the message is getting through that we really need to be aggressive about preventing and managing obesity, even in preschool age children.  The bad news here is that at a rate of 14.9 percent, that still leaves approximately eight million obese preschool age children in this country," Ashton says.

"Make no mistake, we need to do much much better in the future," adds Ashton, who notes that kids who are overweight are more likely to become obese as adults.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


California Girl, 9, Loses 66 Pounds

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Breanna Bond weighed 186 pounds by the time she was 9 years old.

The extra weight made it difficult for her to breathe and move around.  The California girl soon became a target for bullies.

“Everybody at school would call me names,” she said.  “They would call me fatty, they would call me fat head.”

Bond's weight gain began when she was a baby, reaching 100 pounds by the time she got to kindergarten.  She couldn’t keep up with the friends who were running while they played.

Her mother, Heidi Bond of Clovis, Calif., decided to take matters into her own hands.  She designed an exercise routine for her daughter and the entire family.  They began to walk the four-mile trail near their home.

Before long, Breanna had lost 37 pounds.

In addition to following a diet that limits fat to 20 grams per day, Breanna also began using her home treadmill for an hour and 15 minutes each day.  She also started to play basketball and joined the swim team.

Heidi said Breanna inspires her every day.

“She is an inspiration to the world and all children who are having weight issues across America, that you can do it with a pair of tennis shoes and motivation,” Heidi said.  “It’s totally changed the course of her whole life.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study: Antibiotics Too Soon May Set Babies Up for Obesity

altrendo images/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Giving your baby antibiotics too early may increase their chances of being overweight in childhood, new research suggests.

Specifically, infants exposed to antibiotics during the first six months of their lives are 22 percent more likely to be overweight between the ages of 10 months and 3 years -- though their weight tends to return to average by the time they are 7 -- according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity on Tuesday.

This effect on the child's body mass appears to be dependent upon the timing of the antibiotics.  The exposure to antibiotics later in childhood -- while the child is between 6 months and 3 years old -- is not associated with increased body mass.

Researchers say the reason for the weight gain could be that antibiotics at this tender age may change the delicate balance of bacteria in infants' digestive tracts.

"Unnecessary antibiotic use can disrupt healthy bacteria that live in our intestine," said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, primary study author and associate professor in pediatrics at New York University.  "If we have a disruption in the microbes in this gut, it can lead to over-absorption of calories and obesity."

The study sample included 11,532 children from the United Kingdom whose parents agreed to the study before the babies were born.  Researchers checked the height, weight and antibiotics use of these children at birth, and then after approximately 7 weeks, 10 months, 20 months, 38 months and 7 years.

The researchers also took into account other factors, such as the weight of a baby's parents, whether the mother smoked while pregnant, the parents' socioeconomic status and what the baby ate.  Even when they did this, though, the relationship between antibiotic use in these infants and their weight gain remained.

"This will affect our thinking about the obesity epidemic," Trasande said.  "This study suggests the need to shift the paradigm from thinking simply about diet and exercise to other environmental exposures."

Physicians were quick to note that this study does not mean that antibiotics should not be used in these infants when they are clearly needed.  However, doctors said that all too often, antibiotics are used inappropriately -- and this practice can have real consequences for babies' health.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Childhood Obesity Affects Math Performance, Study Says

Fuse/Getty Images(COLUMBIA, Mo.) -- Childhood obesity affects math performance in school, along with children's social skills and well-being, according to a new study published in the journal Child Development.

Researchers from the University of Missouri analyzed data of more than 6,000 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, which collected information from children starting in kindergarten and following them through the fifth grade.  At five different times, parents reported family dynamics and teachers reported on the children's social skills and emotional well-being.  Researchers tested the children on academics, and recorded their height and weight.

Kids who were obese throughout the study period performed worse on math tests in the first through fifth grades than children who were not obese.

"Obesity that persists across the elementary school years has the potential to compromise several areas of children's development, including their social and emotional well-being and academic performance," said Sara Gable, associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at University of Missouri and lead author of the study.

In addition to the math performance findings, obese children reportedly felt sadder, lonelier and more anxious than kids of healthier weights.  Researchers said this emotional well-being also could contribute to their poorer performances in math.

Obesity among children continues to grow in the U.S.; 17 percent, or about 12.5 million, of children and teens are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 1980, obesity among the youth population has nearly tripled. One in seven low-income pre-school children is obese.

While weight may indeed contribute to poor school performance, there are likely several confounding factors that also contribute to an obese child's overall well-being, experts said.

"Obesity does not prevent kids from doing math, but obesity develops in families where there may be less oversight, less education, fewer resources," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Center.

"Stress has been shown to affect brain development and functioning," Dr. Jennifer Cross, a pediatrician at the Komansky Center for Children's Health at NY-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, wrote in an email.  "If obesity causes a child to feel chronically stressed (i.e. bullying, low self esteem, etc.), that could lead to differences in the brain."

While it is difficult to say whether obesity actually affects cognition, "we certainly can say that obesity affects everything from self-esteem to social standing to mood and even hormonal balance, so the likelihood that there would be a whole cascade of effects between weight and math test scores is very high," said Katz.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


How Young is Too Young for Bariatric Surgery?

Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A gastric sleeve operation helped Betsy Sanchez, of Coahuila, Mexico, lose nearly 70 pounds when she was 12, reports the Daily Mail.  Her case is becoming increasingly familiar as doctors perform bariatric surgery on younger adolescents and children.

Before her operation, Betsy weighed 210 pounds and had a body mass index of 41, the paper says.  Her mother, Ana Sanchez, said she tried to cut portion sizes for her daughter as she grew heavier, but Betsy would demand seconds and throw tantrums if she didn't get snacks.

Dr. Guillermo Alvarez, a bariatric surgeon in Piedras Negras, Mexico who was also Sanchez's second cousin, performed Betsy's surgery.

"It is very controversial to operate on children," Alvarez told the Daily Mail.  "But I see the benefits of helping children in cases where parents have tried everything but nothing else seems to control their eating problem."

Now 14, Betsy said she has taken up exercising and is no longer bullied for her size.

"It has changed Betsy's life," Alvarez said.

A 12-year-old may seem young for a grown-up surgical procedure, but such operations are happening more and more.  As bariatric surgeries become more common in teens and adolescents, doctors have been debating the earliest age at which they should be performed.  Some surgeons in other countries have started doing the procedure on even younger children. In April, doctors in Saudi Arabia reported performing surgery on children as young as 5.

Doctors in the U.S. are also performing gastric sleeve and other bariatric surgeries on children, in hopes of arresting obesity and a host of related diseases that plague 17 percent of children and teens in the U.S.  But many are divided on how young is too young for the procedure.

"I think 12 is too young," said Dr. Elizabeth Prout Parks, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.  "The reason is that cognitively, you need to make sure they understand this is a life-changing event that they can't ever reverse."

Gastric sleeve surgery, called a sleeve gastrectomy, involves shrinking the stomach from the size of a football to the size of a banana.  But unlike other types of bariatric surgery, such as gastric bypasses, it doesn't keep the body from absorbing key nutrients.  That makes it a more attractive option for children and adolescents, who still have some growing to do.

"The sleeve doesn't have as many of the complications that you see with other types of bariatric surgery," such as vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, said Dr. Amir Mehran, director of the UCLA Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Program.  "If you decide to do bariatric surgery in kids, that's the way to go."

But Mehran said he'd still hesitate to do the operation on any child younger than 15.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


For Healthier Children, Switch to the 'Batman Diet'

Thinkstock Images/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Kids are more apt to make healthier food choices if they’re asked the question: “What Would Batman Eat?”

Cornell researchers made that discovery by observing 6- to 12-year-old summer campers who were given the pick of either French fries or apple fries, which are actually thinly sliced raw apples.

It turns out that the youngsters were more inclined to pick the apple fries if they were first shown photos of both actual and fictional role models and then asked the question “Would this person order apple fries or French fries?"

The researchers correctly guessed that those kids who believed their heroes would eat healthy also tried to emulate their idols by choosing apple fries.

In doing so, the children were doing their bodies a favor by enjoying a 34-calorie treat as opposed to the fries that packed 227 calories.

Therefore, parents were advised to do more than just ordering healthy food for their kids.  They should also ask, “What would Batman eat?” in hopes their youngsters would know the Caped Crusader is also the scourge of bad food choices.

Head researcher Brian Wansink added, “If you eat fast food once a week, a small switch from French fries to apple fries could save your children almost three pounds of weight a year.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Childhood Obesity Linked to Cesarean Deliveries

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Infants delivered via cesarean section have about twice the risk of becoming obese as infants delivered vaginally, according to a new study published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Researchers recruited more than 1,250 pregnant women from the Boston area and followed their children until the age of 3.

They found that at age three, 15.7 percent of children delivered by C-section were already obese, while only 7.5 percent of children delivered vaginally were obese.

The mother's body mass index and the baby's weight at birth did not play a big role in predisposing children to obesity, the researchers explained.  Previous research, however, has linked maternal obesity to obesity in their children.

Dr. Susanna Huh, lead author and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said the findings still need to be confirmed in later studies, but they suggest that women considering having a C-section that isn't medically necessary should know that their children may be at higher risk for obesity.

"Almost one in three children are delivered by C-section in the U.S., and if cesarean delivery is a risk factor for obesity, this would be an important reason to avoid them if they aren 't necessary," Huh said.

The mechanism behind the relationship between C-sections and obesity is unknown, but Huh and her co-authors speculated there could be a few possible explanations.

"One possibility is that different modes of delivery may affect the bacterial communities established in the body at birth.  This could affect obesity by affecting the absorption of nutrients from the diet, or the bacteria in the gut might interact with host cells in ways that promote obesity," she said.

"Another possible explanation is that hormones and protein signals released during labor may have an effect on the development of obesity," she added.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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