Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic in the United States. According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents ages 2-19 years was 18.5%, making obesity the most common chronic disease of childhood. Treatment of this lifelong disease is designed to help children and their families develop healthy habits and lifestyle patterns that can be continued through adulthood.
Although many understand the end-goal of pediatric obesity treatment to be weight loss, the effects of the disease extend beyond body composition. The fundamental goal of treatment is the improvement of quality of life for children with obesity; quality of life for children with obesity has been noted to be poorer in obese children than children with cancer.
In this article, we’ll review 3 responses that children suffering with obesity experience, beyond just excessive weight gain.
The immune system is greatly affected by excess weight. When your body gets sick, due to a virus, bacterial infection, etc., the body defends itself, resulting in inflammation. The reaction is caused by white blood cells called cytokines, the precursor to inflammation. Generally, this is a good thing. This means that your body is releasing the appropriate proteins and hormones to initiate a recovery process.
Obesity disrupts this harmony. White blood cells aren’t the only type of cell to emit cytokines, they’re also emitted by adipocytes or fat cells. When your body keeps adding more and more fat tissues, cytokines are released and inflammation occurs. Obese children, therefore, are in a state of low-grade chronic inflammation and their immune system is constantly “turned on.”
Overall, this immune response impacts a child's metabolic functions and their ability to fight off infections. Here are some other noteworthy consequences:
Menstrual dysfunction in girls
Early puberty in girls
Delayed puberty in boys
Increase uric acid, a precursor to gout
In addition to the body’s immune response to excessive fat cells, excess weight results in a number of physical responses that inhibit a child from a healthy level of mobility. When a child’s organs and joints are surrounded by excess weight, unwanted stress is put on the body resulting in:
Tissue friction (blisters, rubbing rashes)
Stress on weight bearing joints
Growth disorders such as Blount’s Disease, scoliosis, and osteoarthritis
The effects of obesity are not limited to a child’s physical health. Recent literature suggests a strong relationship between childhood obesity and mental health—healthcare providers will need to use a treatment approach that recognizes a child’s psychological response. Obese children experience number of psycho-social problems that significantly affect their quality of life and wellbeing:
Isolation from peers
Decrease in the ability to participate in normal activities
Subject to bullying
Binge eating disorder
Night eating disorder
Treating and managing obesity provides a child with enormous benefits to their long-term health. Parental intervention is key to success. Visiting a certified health provider can help you understand the current state of your child’s health. For more information about childhood obesity and for help finding a clinician visit: https://obesitymedicine.org/