Obese children may not only experience the heartbreak of teasing, but also heart disease according to a new study.
A child is obese if their weight is more than twenty-percent higher than the ideal weight for a boy or girl of their age and height. The added pounds and body fat could be adding an assortment of health problems such as insulin resistance, inflammation, and a metabolic system that doesn’t work correctly.
"The metabolic abnormalities suggest that the process of developing heart disease has already started in these children, making it critical for them to make definitive lifestyle and diet changes," said study senior author Dr. Ashutosh Lal, a pediatric hematologist at the Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland in California, in a news release provided by the American Heart Association.
Researchers compared the diets of 33 obese children and young adults, ages 11-19, with 19 people in the same age group who were of normal weight. They also examined blood test results. Two-thirds of the participants in each group were female, and both groups were racially diverse. All the participants received health care at a clinic in Oakland.
After reviewing the results, researchers noticed that the older teens showed signs of inflammation, insulin resistance – which can lead to diabetes- and oxidative stress, which can lead to blood vessel damage. Any one of these conditions could be a pre-curser to heart disease. If a child has all three, it becomes a very worrisome prospect for the child’s future health.
Even though the obese teens in the study were beginning to develop heart disease, physically they felt fine.
"Looking at the numbers you would think these children might feel sick, but they did not," Lal said. "They are apparently feeling well, but there is a lot going on beneath the surface."
The study group discovered that teens in both groups weren’t getting proper nutrition. Their diets were lacking in fruits and vegetables, and the obese teen’s diets were particularly low in dairy and had even lower servings of fruit.
Potassium and vitamins A,C, and D – which could have been improved by drinking fortified milk and dairy products and eating dark vegetables and fruits- were found to be below daily requirements in the diets of the obese children.
"Obese teens were consuming too few of the natural sources of antioxidants, fruits and vegetables, and may have increased antioxidant needs based on the inflammation associated with their extra weight," Lal said. "For their heart health, obese teens need to eat better, not just eat less."
The findings are scheduled to be released this week at the American Heart Association scientific sessions, held in Atlanta.
Experts note that research presented at meetings has not been subjected to the same type of rigorous scrutiny given to research published in peer-reviewed medical journals.
To help improve your child’s nutritional intake - try these tips:
- Cook more meals at home. Caregivers are able to provide healthier foods by cooking at home. Restaurants tend to have more sugar and salt in the food that is served. Make sure that each meal provides lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber.
- Provide fresh fruit for snacks. Fruit, especially dark fruit, provides antioxidants that can lower inflammation, and satisfy a craving for something sweet.
- Eat your meals at a regular time. Knowing that a meal is served at a particular time and location offers families a place to share time together, ideas and bonding.
- Make sure meals have plenty of variety. Keep fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beverages like milk, water, and pure fruit juice always available. These foods and drinks offer healthy food choices instead of empty calories that can add unwanted pounds.
- Make sure that portions are reasonable, and never offer food as a reward or bribe to get your child to do something.
As the adult in the household, remember to set a good example and encourage your child to experiment with healthy food choices. Their hearts will be glad you did!