No parent likes to think that his or her child is skating on the edge of disaster. But if your teen is obese – 10 percent higher than what is recommended for their height and body type – they could be at a much higher risk for Type 2 diabetes, a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that half of American overweight teens have unhealthy blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar levels.
The rise in Type 2 diabetes among today’s youth is a real concern. The study showed that the percentage of adolescents who were diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes rose dramatically from 9 percent in 1999, to 21 percent in 2008. Pre-diabetics have higher than normal blood sugar levels, but not high enough to count as diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, is a condition that until recently doctors almost never saw in kids. But that was before the childhood obesity epidemic.
"That's a shockingly high figure that has dire implications to the health of this entire generation of children. This report really sounds the alarm," says David S. Ludwig, a childhood obesity expert at Children's Hospital in Boston.
For the study, researchers from the CDC focused on 3,383 adolescents ages 12 through 19, who were part of an intensive National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that involves interviewing, weighing, measuring and performing medical tests on people across the country.
"It's one thing for an overweight or obese 55-year-old gaining an extra few pounds a year to develop diabetes at age 65 and then have a heart attack. It's a very different thing if the clock starts ticking at age 10," Ludwig says. "Children have so many more years to suffer from the consequences from these serious medical problems related to obesity.”
Diabetic teens will someday be diabetic adults struggling to keep their blood sugar levels under control. They will also be saddled with the possible results of long-term diabetes such as blindness, nerve damage, heart attacks and strokes. The good news is that parents can help their children turn things around now. Young children and teens can avoid these lifetime health problems by losing the extra pounds and getting fit before type 2 diabetes and other health problems have a chance to develop.
Are parents getting the message that there is an obesity epidemic among this nation’s children? Not as many as should be. Recent studies have shown that many parents of obese children do not think their child is overweight, particularly if one or both of the parents is obese. If parents don’t take action because they don’t recognize that their child is not merely a few pounds overweight, but clinically obese, their child will pay the price. If you need help figuring out where to start making lifestyle changes, the CDC has a guide to family healthy living on their website at www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating.
Type 2 diabetes and heart disease are not what parents want for their children. That’s why it’s so important that they pay attention to the health issues that obesity can cause.
"The impact of the epidemic will continue to mount for many years as this generation of children carry these increased risk factors into adulthood and carry the burden of chronic disease for so many years longer than ever has been the case in history," Ludwig notes.