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 pressure, high 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.