seen only among an older population, adult diseases such as
fatty liver disease, hypertension and osteoporosis are being
diagnosed more and more in children. And you can add to that
sleep apnea, Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol levels. The
culprits? Unhealthy diets and growing waistlines, experts say.
obesity early and appreciating the cardiovascular decline it
can pose for young children has become so important that the
American Academy of Pediatrics established guidelines and
recommendations for pediatricians, typically not accustomed to
seeing the resulting cascade of health issues in their
studies have shown that obesity is under recognized by parents
as well as by physicians," said Dr. Seema Kumar,
pediatric endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic Children’s
Center. "Parents in general tend to think they will
outgrow it. ... It also depends on the ethnic group they’re
coming from. In some cultures, being overweight is actually a
sign of prosperity. So they may actually not even consider
that as a problem."
observations ring true with a study by the New York University
Langone Medical Center that was published online in April in
the journal Childhood Obesity. While rates of childhood
obesity have risen over the last several decades, the study
showed, a vast majority of parents perceive their kids as
"about the right weight."
James J. Maciejko, a lipidologist and director of the Adult
and Pediatric Lipid Clinics at St. John Hospital in Detroit,
is concerned by how few Americans in general understand the
grave dangers of overeating. Maciejko sees kids eating 3,000
calories a day and reminds them and their parents that young
bodies cannot handle that load. In general, he said,
pre-pubescent children should be consuming about 2,000
calories per day; if they are quite active, maybe 200 to 300
calories more. After puberty, most boys should consume about
2,000 calories a day and girls about 1,500 to 1,600 daily.
Here’s the list:
disease: With obesity comes the risk of cardiovascular
disease. Developing risk factors in childhood can greatly
increase the likelihood of heart disease in adulthood. For
that reason, guidelines sponsored by the National Heart, Lung
and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of
Health, recommend that all children be screened for high
cholesterol at least once at ages 9 to 11 and again at 17 to
guidelines are meant to help health care practitioners prevent
or identify those issues early to minimize more severe health
issues later in life.
Overweight children can develop "adult-onset"
diabetes, or Type 2, as young as age 8, and the CDC points out
that the loss of insulin sensitivity can develop at any age,
especially among overweight children.
complications from diabetes are many: cardiovascular problems,
damage to the nerves, kidneys, eyes and feet, and it can
contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
"There are enough studies that have shown that ... an
overweight child is two to three times more likely to have
high blood pressure compared to a child that is normal
weight," Kumar said. Hypertension can cause a range of
health problems, from the heart to the brain to the kidneys.
liver: Maciejko said he is noticing more children being
diagnosed with hyperlipidemia, or high fat levels in the
blood. Part of the reason simply may be that doctors now are
testing children for this.
pediatrics association "now recommends all kids by the
age of 9 have a lipid profile," he noted. As a result,
when kids come in for their wellness visit when they’re 9,
10 or 11, the pediatrician orders a cholesterol profile.
"And so, because of that, we’re starting to identify
cholesterol issues in kids," he said.
a child (or adult) eats excessive amounts of calories
(particularly from refined carbohydrates), the blood sugar
rises," he explained. "The liver attempts to reduce
the blood-sugar level by taking sugar up from the bloodstream.
The liver converts this extra sugar to glycogen and stores it.
However, when the storage capacity of the liver is full, the
extra sugar the liver takes out of the blood is converted to
fatty acid and triglycerides. The fatty acid tends to
accumulate in the liver, causing fatty liver disease (also
called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH), while the
triglycerides are deposited into the blood, raising the blood
liver disease can lead to depleted liver function, and the
consequence of high triglycerides is cardiovascular disease,
among other things.
Just as important as what kids are putting into their bodies
is what they’re not. Eating disorders among very young
children are contributing to the increase of osteoporosis,
according to Dr. Ellen Rome, head of the Cleveland Clinic
Children’s Center for Adolescent Medicine and professor of
pediatrics at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine
many of the problems we see in adulthood have their roots in
childhood," Rome said. "A classic example is
osteoporosis. That’s now seen as a pediatric disease."
a kid from childhood isn’t getting three calcium or dairy
servings a day with vitamin D, they can, in their early years,
not be putting on the bone they’re supposed to have put
on," Rome said. By not depositing bone during those early
years in life, when they’re supposed to be adding 40 to 60
percent of their bone mass, they’re increasing their risk of
osteoporosis later in life. "That means that kid is way
behind on what they should have been depositing in their
"bone bank" by the time they are in their 20s. If
they’re five to 10 times lower in their bone density, they’ve
doubled or tripled their fracture risks."
health issues all link to the diet problem. What can parents
diets should consist of healthy sources of protein such as
low-fat dairy products, lean cuts of meat and eggs; fresh
vegetables and fruit; and healthy beverages such as water and
skim milk, according to Maciejko. He advises against excess
starch such as pasta, potatoes and white bread, favoring
whole-grain pasta, rye or whole-grain bread and vegetables as
replacements. "Of course, the key to avoiding unhealthy
weight gain is moderation in the consumption of food," he
noted, "even the healthiest food."
children develop healthy eating habits now is the key, the
experts say, because the dire consequences are coming fast.