An article in the New England Journal of Medicine leaves little room for doubt that childhood obesity leads to premature death and reduced quality of life. Just in case the social stigma and negative body image that accompany obesity in childhood weren’t bad enough, we now learn that childhood obesity carries with it a very good chance of leading a shortened life. Premature death is defined as dying before age 55. Not only is the chance of an early death more likely, but the diseases that cause this early death are generally long, drawn out and debilitating. Diabetes, which is extremely prevalent in obese people, leads to loss of limbs, loss of eyesight, osteoarthritis which can impair mobility and kidney disease which can lead to a need for hemodialysis.
Why does this matter?
With many people now waiting until later in life to have children, dying before age 55 could leave entire generations without one or both parents very early in life. And this is not an abstract threat – with so many children currently overweight or obese, just imagine how this could affect future generations.
What can a parent do?
First, if your child is not overweight or obese it is important to prevent this from happening. However, as parents know, it can be a fine line between encouraging healthy eating and exercising habits and causing disordered eating. The key is to help your children have a healthy relationship with food from the start and to listen to his/her body. If your child is already obese, it is important to help them get back on a healthy growth curve. If you feel like you don’t know where to start, get help from a nutrition professional, a Nourish Registered Dietitian who specializes in child and family nutrition. This book from Ellyn Satter is a great resource for parents.
The good news is that so much attention is being drawn to this issue which is causing lots of positive change. For example, Michelle Obama has launched an initiative to fight childhood obesity. Fast food restaurants now consistently offer healthier options for kids meals, including apples and low fat milk. Schools that once cut out recess and physical education in the interest of increasing test scores are reintroducing these subjects back into their curriculum. If the momentum continues I think we can look forward to even more changes to make it easier for parents and children to reach a healthy weight.