Obesity is even worse for kids than we thought.
This is saying something, because we were already worried. Being overweight or obese (obese is defined as having a body mass index at the 95th percentile or higher--to find out where your child is, use the BMI calculator on the CDC website) doubles or triples the risk of high blood pressure, and we are seeing atherosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries") as early as nine.
We need to be thinking more carefully about when we start worrying about kids, they said. We may just need to be worrying sooner--and doing more work for prevention, because the implications for the future health of overweight and obese kids are, well, bad. Here's what the researchers said:
"We found that overweight and obesity have a significant effect on blood pressure, lipids, insulin levels and resistance, and left ventricular mass. This effect on risk parameters for cardiovascular disease is greatest in obese children and the implications for their future health may be greater than has been previously suggested."
A little less than a year ago, Georgia came out with some anti-obesity ads that featured overweight children, with taglines like "It's hard to be a little girl when you aren't". The idea was to "wake people up", and it certainly got people talking--but it felt uncomfortable to a lot of us to shame kids when, actually, the biggest risk factor for childhood obesity is having an obese parent. Did you know that? According to a recent study, if we could tackle the problem of parental overweight, we'd cut childhood obesity in half.
Enter the ads being run in Minnesota that aim to embarrass (okay, shame) overweight parents into taking a hard look at themselves and their habits. In each an overweight parent has an "aha" moment when they realize that their (overweight) child is copying their unhealthy eating habits. (I wrote about this for the Boston Children's blog, Thriving, and for Huffington Post).
But the BMJ study has me really worried as a pediatrician. And we can't responsibly fight childhood obesity if we don't tackle the main risk factor.
What do you think of these ads?
- A study out of Boston Children's Hospital showed that when a group of overweight and obese adolescents cut back on their sugar-sweetened beverages they gained less than a control group that didn't.
- Researchers in the Netherlands found that when they gave normal-weight kids one can a day of a sugar-sweetened beverage a day, they gained more weight after 18 months than those who got a sugar-free beverage.
- Data from a big study of nurses shows that when people who have a high genetic risk of obesity drink even just one sugar sweetened beverage a day, they gain even more weight.
- Get out of the habit of salting things. If you can, get the salt shaker off the table. Try using herbs or lemon to flavor foods.
- Start reading nutrition labels. Find out just how much sodium is in your food.
- Watch out for processed foods, like canned soups and frozen dinners--they are often really high in sodium.
Liam doesn't want to take that leap--and I can't make him.
Coming to terms with this concept has been one of the tougher parts of parenthood for me.
There are times when I want the kids to do something, because I think they have the talent for it and it would be fun and good for them--like when I wanted Michaela to keep taking ballet, or Natasha to try out for the school play. These are things that are stretches for them, that require a leap of faith. At this point in parenthood, I've learned to get over it when they don't want to take those leaps. After all, these are usually things that I want, not things they want. And ultimately, they don't matter.
But some things do matter, and that's when I have more trouble. There are times when my heart breaks for one of my children because I know they have it in them to learn Latin, or get out of a bad relationship, or make new friends, or swim an elusive qualifying time...and all that is stopping them is, well, them. They hold themselves back--they don't believe in themselves, or they don't have the passion or will they need, or both. I've tried encouraging, cajoling, yelling, bribing--nothing works. It has to come from them.
In parenthood, we can only take them so far. We can love them and nurture them and teach them and give them opportunities...but whether and when they put their feet on the pedals and take off down the path is ultimately not ours to decide.
I haven't given up on teaching Liam to ride a bike, though. A friend suggested I try rollerblading alongside of him, holding on to the bike. If nothing else, it sounds like fun.
- Children 6 months-4 years (because the young are more likely to get very sick, and are infection-spreaders)
- People with asthma, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions--and any one with lowered immune defenses, like people on chemotherapy.
- People on aspirin therapy
- People older than 50.
- Pregnant women
- Caregivers of children (especially children less than 6 months since they are too young to be immunized) or the elderly
- Health care workers, and caregivers of people with health problems
- confusion, or memory loss
- clumsiness, trouble with balance or difficulty doing normal activities