Five Percent Of American Children Suffer From Severe Obesity
September 10, 2013

Five Percent Of American Children Suffer From Severe Obesity

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

A newly published statement in the American Heart Association journal Circulation warns about the health consequences for ‘severely obese’ children – a newly defined risk class.

"Severe obesity in young people has grave health consequences," said lead author Aaron Kelly, a researcher at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis. "It's a much more serious childhood disease than obesity."

He added that the rate of severe obesity appears to be increasing among children while childhood obesity rates are starting to level off.

According to the AHA, severely obese children have increased risk for Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol, at younger ages. The association said standard approaches to weight loss may be insufficient for these children.

The statement described children over age 2 as severely obese if they either have a body mass index (BMI) at least 20 percent above the 95th percentile for their gender and age, or a BMI of 35 or higher. Children at the 95th BMI percentile or higher are considered obese, and those between the 85th and 95th percentiles are considered overweight.

For example, a 7-year-old girl of average height weighing 75 pounds would be considered severely obese – as would a 13-year-old boy of average height weighing 160 pounds.

The statement authors suggest an incremental approach in treating severely obese children, with steps ranging from lifestyle changes to medication to surgery.

"But the step from lifestyle change and medication to surgery is unacceptably large because weight loss surgery isn't appropriate for or available to all severely obese children," Kelly said.

The statement authors suggest "innovative approaches to fill the gap between lifestyle/medication and surgery."

The AHA scientists also advised conducting more research on the safety and effectiveness of bariatric surgery; evaluating effectiveness of dietary and physical activity interventions; funding the search for pharmaceutical and device-based interventions; and recognizing severe obesity as a chronic disease that demands ongoing care and management.

One study recently published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics described how an in-home intervention program designed to help at-risk families improve household routines could slow weight gain in young children.

“While childhood obesity rates may have stabilized in some population subgroups, overall rates remain stubbornly high, and racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities persist. For these reasons, seeking solutions that will particularly influence high-risk families is important,” said study author Dr. Elsie Taveras, chief of General Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. “Our findings demonstrate that relatively simple, no-cost changes in routines within the home can help children maintain or achieve a healthful weight.”

Conducted at four community health centers in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, Mass., the research team enrolled over 120 families – each with a child between two and five years old who slept in a room with a television.

During the study period, one group received monthly packages with educational information on early childhood development. Meanwhile, the other group was enrolled in a program called “Healthy Habits, Happy Homes,” which encouraged families to have regular meals together, allow adequate sleep for children, limit children's time watching television and take the television from rooms where children sleep. The program also instructed parents on practices such as role modeling and limit setting.

At the end of the study period, the BMI of children in the counseling group dropped an average of 0.18, while it rose 0.21 in the control group. The experimental group also exhibited a wide array of newly adopted healthy habits.