A new gigantic study from Johns Hopkins and UCLA, shows that childhood obesity may be a more serious issue than previously thought.
The study involved 43,297 children aged 10 to 17. Researchers on the study assessed how the weights and heights of the children were associated (or not associated) with 21 different indicators of general health, psychosocial functioning, and specific health disorders. The researchers ended up finding out some bad news. First they learned that around 15% of children in the study were overweight and 16% were obese.
Then they learned that the obese children in the study were at twice the risk of their healthy weight peers of having three or more medical, mental or developmental conditions. Overweight youth had a 1.3 times higher risk of the same conditions. This is not insanely surprising news. Childhood obesity has already been associated with plenty of harmful health consequences. However, most past childhood obesity studies focus on long-term health problems. For example, it’s well known that being overweight as a child places you at a higher risk of developing diabetes as an adult. This study went further though, showing that not only do overweight kids face health issues later in life, but that they face health issues sooner, with some health problems rearing their head during adolescence.
Lead author Dr. Neal Halfon, a professor of pediatrics, public health and public policy at UCLA notes:
“This study paints a comprehensive picture of childhood obesity, and we were surprised to see just how many conditions were associated with childhood obesity. The findings should serve as a wake-up call to physicians, parents and teachers, who should be better informed of the risk for other health conditions associated with childhood obesity so that they can target interventions that can result in better health outcomes.“
This new study notes that both being overweight and being obese as a child is associated with many negative health consequences, such as…
- Poor overall health status.
- Low emotional functioning.
- Higher instances of diabetes at a younger age than previously thought. Past studies shows a strong correlation between childhood obesity and adult diabetes, but in this study, the data showed that diabetes is becoming a significant problem by age 15 to 17 and the researchers note, “The relationship between obesity and diabetes is well under way beginning in adolescence.“
One of the most alarming findings in this study was that the higher a child’s weight, the more likely they were to experience comorbid conditions. Comorbid conditions refers to having more than one health issue associated with a primary condition, meaning obesity may lead to heart disease AND diabetes or heart disease AND diabetes AND bone and joint problems.
In this study, comorbid conditions overweight youth experienced included ADHD, conduct disorders, depression, learning disabilities, developmental delay, poor teeth, bone/joint/muscle problems, asthma, allergies, headaches and ear infections. Children who weighed more experienced a higher prevalence of comorbid conditions and greater numbers of comorbidities.
Some other findings…
There was evidence in this study that obesity may have a greater influence on health for higher-income or white children, though the reasons why were unclear.
The study found a link between childhood obesity and school related problems, such as being held back a grade. The association between weight status and repeating a grade were only associated with obesity and could not be explained by the presence of other measured conditions. The researchers note that, “These findings are consistent with an emerging literature demonstrating possible linkages between obesity and lowered academic achievement measured by grade point average, test scores, and performance motivation.”
What this study means for parents:
First and foremost this study will hopefully serve as a wake-up call to many parents. There’s been a fair amount of denial associated with overweight kids during the last decade or so. If you’ve ever doubted that excess weight equals health problems for kids, then this study should convince you otherwise.
As the researchers point out, over the past 20 years there’s been dramatic increases in the prevalence of childhood obesity and this same, “Time period has also shown large increases in the prevalence of other childhood-onset health conditions such as ADHD, conduct problems, learning difficulties and asthma.”
The researchers go on to speculate that increasing health problems are likely related to recent shifts in the social and physical environment of childhood – meaning how kids are raised nowadays is likely at the core of the obesity issue. We need to make sure kids eat right, get less screen time and more activity time and are taught how to make healthy lifestyle choices for a healthier life now and later on.