Research Continues To Find Health Problems Linked To Childhood Obesity
January 14, 2013

Research Continues To Find Health Problems Linked To Childhood Obesity

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Obesity research just keeps piling up, as another study points out more of the health problems linked to the childhood weight crisis.

A new UCLA study focused on the how childhood obesity has immediate consequences, and found that these youngsters are at a far greater risk than previously thought.

When comparing obese children to those of normal weight, the team found that those who are overweight are at nearly twice the risk of having three or more reported medical, mental or developmental conditions.

"This study paints a comprehensive picture of childhood obesity, and we were surprised to see just how many conditions were associated with childhood obesity," lead author Dr. Neal Halfon, a professor of pediatrics, public health and public policy at UCLA, said in a statement.

"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," said Halfon.

The latest research provides the first comprehensive national profile of associations between weight status and a broad set of associated health conditions that kids suffer from during childhood.

The researchers reported that obese children were more likely than those who were classified as not overweight to have: poorer health; more disability; greater tendencies towards emotional and behavioral problems; higher rates of grade repetition and missed school days; ADHD; conduct disorder; depression; learning disabilities; developmental delays; bone, joint and muscle problems; asthma; allergies; headaches; and ear infections.

For the study, the team used the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health, analyzing data on nearly 43,300 children between the ages 10 and 17. They assessed associations between weight status and 21 indicators of general health, psychosocial functioning, and specific health disorders.

They found that 15 percent of the children were considered overweight with a body mass index between the 85th and 95th percentiles, and 16 percent were obese with a BMI of the 95th percentile or higher.

Writing in the journal Academic Pediatrics, the authors speculated that the ongoing shift in chronic childhood conditions is related to decades of under-appreciated changes in the social and physical environments.

They said that obesity-prevention efforts should target these social and environmental influences, and that kids should be screened and managed for the co-morbid conditions.

The team said that while the strength of the study lies in the large population base, future studies need to be done to examine better longitudinal data to tease out causal relationships that cannot be inferred from a study.

"Obesity might be causing the co-morbidity, or perhaps the co-morbidity is causing obesity – or both might be caused by some other unmeasured third factor," Halfon said.

"For example, exposure to toxic stress might change the neuroregulatory processes that affect impulse control seen in ADHD, as well as leptin sensitivity, which can contribute to weight gain. An understanding of the association of obesity with other co-morbidities may provide important information about causal pathways to obesity and more effective ways to prevent it," he concluded.