In my Amazon.com best-selling book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat, I predicted that if we did not stem the epidemic of childhood obesity, that our children could become the first generation in American history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
Now, the New York Times is reporting on a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine “that tracked thousands of children through adulthood found the heaviest youngsters were more than twice as likely as the thinnest to die prematurely, before age 55, of illness or a self-inflicted injury.”
While “youngsters with … pre-diabetes were at almost double the risk of dying before 55, and those with high blood pressure were at some increased risk,” it was obesity that was “most closely associated with an early death, researchers said.”
These “data come from a National Institutes of Health study that began in 1965,” USA Today reports.
After tracking “4,857 American Indian children in Arizona for an average of 24 years,” investigators found that “children who were the heaviest – the top fourth – were more than twice as likely to die early from natural causes, such as alcoholic liver disease, cardiovascular disease, infections, cancer, and diabetes, as children whose weight put them in the lowest quarter of the population.”
Bloomberg News reports, “The number of overweight and obese children has tripled since 1980, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Approximately “17 percent of US children ages two to 19 years old are considered obese and almost 12 percent are considered the heaviest kids, according to a CDC study released in January.”
The current study’s “findings detail the ‘serious health consequences’ that children might face as they get older, lead study author Paul Franks said.”
WebMD reported, “Death rates from natural causes among children in the highest group of glucose intolerance (a risk factor for developing diabetes) were 73% higher than among the children in the lowest group of glucose intolerance, the researchers found.”
While “no substantial links were found between cholesterol levels and premature deaths,” the study authors “did find that high blood pressure in childhood raised the risk of premature death from natural causes by about 1.5 times.”
HeartWire reported that an accompanying editorial “notes that the causes of obesity and diabetes appear to be rooted in culture – inactivity and large portion sizes of calorie-dense fast food – and that fighting these diseases with ‘clinical and adult-based approaches’ is akin to ‘pasting a small bandage on a gaping wound.'”
The new study is timely and important, says Marc Jacobson, MD, a Great Neck, N.Y., pediatrician who specializes in caring for children with obesity and cholesterol problems. “It gives us more hard data about the long-term effects of adolescent obesity,” he says.
Jacobson serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Obesity Leadership Workgroup. The Academy recommends that BMI be measured in all children and that those with a BMI above the 85th percentile be helped to get it below the 85th percentile, which is considered a healthy weight, he says.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has a tool parents can use called 5210, Jacobson says. “It’s used to prevent childhood obesity.” It stands for:
In the editorial accompanying the new study, Edward W. Gregg, PhD, of the DC, notes that the Pima Indians studied in the research are sometimes viewed as not representative of the U.S. population because their risk of diabetes is especially high.
But, he points out that 4% of the participants in the study had impaired glucose tolerance, a percentage similar to the 3% of U.S. teens overall who have the condition. And the condition affects 9.5% of obese teens, he says.
So, what’s a family to do? What if you are your children are overweight or obese? I have a number of resources to assist you: