CHILDHOOD OBESITY AND WEIGHT GAIN: EARLY HEALTH AND METABOLIC CONSEQUENCES
A major problem with weight gain among kids is that it produces serious health problems and sets the stage for early development of even more serious disease. For example, kids who gain weight develop what is called “impaired glucose tolerance”, meaning that they have a type of pre-diabetes condition. This means that the overweight, or obese child does not process ingested sugars easily and the serum blood sugar level rises. There are also problems with insulin production and resistance of the tissues to insulin, both critical factors in the development of diabetes.
In addition, the circulating blood lipid levels rise in overweight kids and they develop early plaques on the inner lining of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis.
The combination of an expanding waistline together with high lipid levels and elevated blood sugars are the core findings of the metabolic syndrome, a collection of serious cardiovascular abnormalities associated with early heart attacks, strokes and death.
The kids who start out on this path at such an early age have a poor chance of living a normal, long life. Many of the metabolic results of weight gain as a child are well described in a volume by Weiss called The Metabolical Consequences of Childhood Obesity (Best Practice and Research Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, volume 19, issue 3, page 405).
The connection between being overweight as a child or adolescent and then later having adult obesity and cardiovascular disease is made clear in a study by Srinivasan in the journal Metabolism (volume 45, issue 2, page 235, February 1996). In this study, 783 subjects surveyed first as adolescents and then again as young adults age 27 to 31. They found that the excess weight present in the adolescents persisted into young adulthood and had a strong and negative impact on health as measured by multiple cardiovascular risk factors (high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, adverse lipid profile and diabetes).
So, unfortunately, while we would like to think of some of the youngsters as still retaining some of that “baby fat” and hoping that it will melt away as they age into adulthood, the facts speak otherwise. Childhood weight gain and obesity lead to adult obesity and disease.
We cannot afford to neglect childhood weight gain and adolescent obesity as serious problems and as an important opportunity to intervene for improved long-term health.