CHILDHOOD OBESITY: THE COMING OF AN EPIDEMIC

Children are getting fatter. Seriously fatter. To the extent that they are getting all sorts of major, adult-type ailments like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, acid reflux, orthopedic problems, psychiatric problems, sleep apnea, etc. These kids are not a tiny minority. In the West, they are around a third of all kids.

In Indian society, 70% of kids are too thin to be called normal. Amongst Indian children obesity affects, almost exclusively, urban kids. In several studies, the incidence of weight problems (mild to severe) in urban Indian kids has been as high as 30 percent. In the West, a third of the children are already obese, and around 80% of these are likely to grow up into fat adults. The incidence is expected to grow (more in minorities and the poor), and the obesity epidemic has three phases.

Quote from the New England Journal of Medicine:

Phase 1 began in the early 1970s and is ongoing: average weight is progressively increasing among children from all socioeconomic levels, racial and ethnic groups, and regions of the country.
Though it has attracted much attention from the medical profession and the public, childhood obesity during this phase has actually had little effect on public health, because an obese child may remain relatively healthy for years.

Phase 2, which we are now entering, is characterized by the emergence of serious weight-related problems. The diabetes, the bone problems, the psychiatric problems I mentioned initially are all part of this phase.

It may take many years to reach phase 3 of the epidemic, in which the medical complications of obesity lead to life-threatening disease.
By 2035, the prevalence of CHD (Coronary Heart Disease) will have increased by 5 to 16%, with more than 100,000 excess cases attributable to increased obesity among today’s adolescents. Preliminary data from Canada suggest that adolescents with type 2 diabetes will be at high risk for limb amputation, kidney failure requiring dialysis, and premature death.
Shockingly, the risk of dying by middle age is already two to three times as high among obese adolescent girls as it is among those of normal weight.

In Phase 4 permanent, possibly genetic changes in the body will occur and result in a cohort of hungry, fat people of all ages.

The NEJM likens this epidemic to the global warming theory, but with easier solutions.

For more on adolescent and child obesity, click here (old post of mine).

15 responses to “CHILDHOOD OBESITY: THE COMING OF AN EPIDEMIC

  1. It is very difficult to control child obesity. My 7 year old niece is obese but it not easy to tell a child to eat less. If everybody in her class is eating chocolates how do you stop her. Once the child is obese he hates playing outdoor games because other kids make fun of them as they are less active. This is a vicious circle. The child is obese because he doesn’t exercise and he doesn’t exercise because he is obese.

  2. Pingback: IS THE NEJM A LEFTIST MAG? « A Twist of Word and Mind

  3. Perhaps if the parents stuck to healthy food and showed that they were enjoying it the child would follow? I’m not sure this will work. Peer pressure is a massive influence here.

  4. Rambodoc:

    Instead of citing more and more from my thesis or the Obesity blog (obesityheadlines.wordpress.com), I shall contribute a heavy and much-intended pun to this post:

    Childhood obesity is a growing problem! 😉

  5. Vivek Khadpekar

    Shefaly:

    //Childhood obesity is a growing problem! //

    “Growing problem” or “growing-up problem?”

  6. Doc, I’ve tried to ponder many times how the human race would end. Global warming? Ice age? Poisoned by pollution?

    It never occurred to me that we would meet our (timely) demise shortly after we are confined to rolling everywhere for transportation!

  7. I was so skinny as a kid that I used to think of ways to put on weight and I think this was in part to the simple non-fatty food we ate at home and the work ethic. All of us were active.
    I think activity is very important, our bodies have been designed to move!

  8. I hear schools here in America are cutting back on gym classes. Nice.

  9. Paul: we in the UK beat you to it many years ago. And just to be safe we sold the playgrounds for private property development.

    We also cut the home economics classes that gave them financial literacy, cooking skills and such essentials. So now you can imagine what we are looking at…

  10. In USA, many of the reasons for childhood obesity mentioned above contribute to our childhood obesity problem. This problem also affects the poorest children too. Off the cuff, the reasons I think is: less physical activity (think TV, computers, Xboxes, etc + FEAR by moms to let their kids roam around outside…one would think there are child predators lurking around every corner). Schools – they ain’t the school cafes we grew up with….commercialised – soda machines, fast food chains sell food, etc etc. Gym class, that embarrassing ritual all kids went through, I guess are fewer – you know, where you have to run a mile in 4 minutes or something, in addition to learning basic sports (basketball, golf, kickball, etc).
    Add to all this fast food, with their supersized portions, a hatred of drinking plain water, busy working mommas, and predatory fast food marketing…
    One more thought please: veggies don’t taste good. Most are purchased, not grown, and the ones you buy at Ye Local BigBox store are engineered for transport and shelf life, not taste. Blech.

  11. Jackie:
    I absolutely love the baby carrots and cherry tomatoes that I have had in the US. I strongly disagree that the veggies you get are tasteless.
    Only thing is that the country is somehow gigantic in most ways: roads, buildings, spaces, malls, veggies and fruits, and portions. After that, everything looks so tiny!

  12. Sorry, I disagree that grocery store veggies taste better. Ever been in a tomato patch – the ‘maters were so yummy you just want to stand there with a saltshaker! Don’t grow veggies anymore, but I can tell the difference from locally (i.e., fresh) grown vs. store bought veggies (hauled from across the country in many cases).
    I have many friends who grow veggies – and they share! Also, we have local farmer’s markets and the like, and they taste better.
    Since both parents are of farmer stock, they grow their own as well, and I can tell you first hand, home grown is best!
    The veggies sold locally in the grocery stores here – ick!!!! – the tomatoes have little taste, iceberg lettuce is a waste, and most of the produce sucks.
    Maybe you got lucky and found some good veggies, but I stock up in season and freeze most veggies. Also try to eat what is in season.
    My point earlier is that many kids hate veggies here — overcooked southern style 🙂 — because they don’t taste good.

  13. Rambodoc: I have to agree with Jackie on the relative taste comment. Food tastes vastly better in Europe and some foods taste very rich in India than they do in the US. There is plenty of historic commentary from the 1800s and 1900s which talks about how American food differs in taste, size (vegetables themselves are bigger and the big portions have been a cultural presence since early days) and how Americans eat (shovelling rather than eating whilst sitting down and slowly relishing the food and helping it digest).

    However there is not a lot of research that explains or explores the link between taste and over-eating (or under-eating) for that matter.

    Overcooked veggies may be a minor thing in shaping preferences though. Children’s preferences and choices are shaped by many factors – including family’s eating habits. Their socio-economic status is very significant a variable too – it determines where they live (in the US, food deserts are rich in oases called McDonald’s!), which in turn addresses a whole lot of issues about food access in schools and communities, safety issues, availability of open spaces and parks, parents having time to cook etc.

    Part of the problem why nobody will ever solve this obesity thing is that such reductionist framing makes things easier to frame but not to solve. Actual action will require very strong political will and excellent enforcement (which is important for regulation, esp in healthcare systems which are publicly funded).

    I am sure now you will come up with ‘free choice’ for which I have a lot of ammunition backed by data 😉 but you shall have to read it on my Obesity blog..

  14. Shefaly:
    “in the US, food deserts are rich in oases called McDonald’s!”
    Now that is a quotable quote. Just for this one, you should be on Thinkexist.com or something similar.
    🙂

  15. Thank you, Rambodoc. You are too kind. 🙂

    A friend of mine always points out lines I write in emails – yes, I think my friends do deserve pity for the constant and very intense onslaught of communication from me – which I am supposed to print out and file for future use. May be I should start taking her advice seriously after all. Hmm..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s