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Apr 07, 2015

Strategies for Combatting Childhood Obesity

Early lifestyle interventions are urgently needed to stop growing childhood obesity rates.

Childhood obesity is a growing public health problem both in the United States and around the globe. Over the last 30 years, childhood obesity rates have increased by 47% in developed and developing countries alike. Overweight and obesity can cause a long list of serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, and experts worry about the long-term impact of childhood obesity on future public health.

According to “Lifetime Risk: Childhood Obesity and Cardiovascular Risk,” a report recently published in the European Heart Journal, the implications are huge. Based on the latest evidence, there is no question that childhood overweight and obesity leads to increased risk for heart disease later in life. Overweight and obese children are likely to grow up to be obese adults, putting them at significantly increased risk for high blood pressurehigh cholesterol and heart disease, among many other conditions. Equally as troubling, the 55-year Harvard Growth Study found that children who were overweight or obese had twice the risk of developing heart disease as an adult, regardless of adult weight. With nearly one-third of U.S. children currently overweight or obese, most children already face increased risk for heart disease before reaching adulthood.

The good news is that simple interventions can help children reduce their future risk of heart disease. Programs that incorporate healthy eating and exercise have been shown to help children lose weight and improve heart health. Research suggests that losing just 5–10% of one’s body weight can go a long way in reducing cardiovascular risk. Weight loss surgery has also been shown to help children with severe obesity reduce their risk for heart disease. However, additional research is needed to understand the long-term effects of weight loss surgery in children.

Overall, authors conclude that there is considerable evidence linking childhood obesity to increased risk for heart disease and other serious health problems. Interventions are needed to help the estimated 24 million overweight and obese U.S. children achieve a healthy weight and reduce risk. As authors explain, future large-scale studies are urgently needed to further our understanding of childhood obesity and develop strategies for addressing this public health issue.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a healthy weight for children?
  • Body mass index (BMI) is used to determine whether a child falls into an underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese range. For children, BMI is calculated using height and weight, and takes into account both age and gender. Children with a BMI falling between the 5th and 85th percentile are considered a healthy weight.
  • What is the best way to lose weight?

  • Weight loss boils down to a simple formula: burn more energy each day than you take in from food. A deficit of 3500 calories will net one pound of fat loss. Therefore, if you cut down your food intake by just 100 calories a day, you can expect to lose 10 pounds by the end of the year.

    Although it’s tempting to look for a quick fix with a speedy weight loss scheme, many popular diets are unhealthy or produce only temporary results. You’ll have better luck with an eating plan that includes a variety of healthful foods and gives you enough calories and nutrients to meet your body’s needs. Taking it slow by making ongoing eating and exercise changes is the best way to reach and maintain your optimal weight.

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