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Scary news about childhood obesity--is it time for drastic measures?

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  September 27, 2012 11:26 AM

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Obesity is even worse for kids than we thought.

That's the conclusion of a study just published in the British Medical Journal that looked at a whole bunch of studies on kids and risk for cardiovascular disease (disease of the heart and blood vessels). When they looked closely at the numbers, the researchers were alarmed.

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."

We may need more aggressive and drastic measures.

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).

I know that these ads could hurt feelings. And I'm not saying that they should be the only thing we do--there's lots more we need to be doing. Like making sure that everyone can afford healthy food, and creating more safe, accessible and affordable exercise opportunities. Or taking a long hard look not just at our waistlines but how food is produced and marketed. 

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?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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