Epidemic of Obesity Threatens More than U.S. Children’s Waisteline, It Doubles the Risk of Diabetes

The combination of fast-food loaded with fat and calories, massive portions that bear no relationship to daily nutritional requirements, and the lack of physical activity have pushed the percentage of U.S. children who are obese (or almost obese) to around 50% .

If the only problem created by this epidemic of obesity was finding clothing that fits, medical experts would not be concerned. Unfortunately, the dangers faced by seriously overweight children are very real and quite alarming. These include:

* increased risk of developing serious diseases of the cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems;

* elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels;

* long-term damage to the eyes, kidneys, heart, and weight-bearing joints;

* development of eating disorders; and

* psychological problems including depression, lack of confidence, and low self-esteem.

Recent studies published in Diabetes Care only provided more evidence of the seriousness of the problem. The findings show that obese children are more than twice as likely to have diabetes as children who are not overweight. Moreover, if they do not already have the disease, obesity is a major risk factor that increases their chances of developing it before adulthood.

After analyzing data from a national survey of over 102,000 children and 1,740 eighth-graders from 12 schools, the combined findings showed what one study author described as a situation that “really screams for us to do comprehensive prevention.”

Although a small number of the children actually had diabetes already, the findings were troubling in that:

* 50% of the 1,740 eighth graders were overweight or close to becoming overweight;

* children as young as 13 already may have risk factors for type 2 diabetes, which has traditionally been a disease associated with older adults;

* 41% of the 1,740 children had elevated fasting blood sugar levels;

* 36% had high levels of insulin (an indicator that the body is developing insulin resistance);

* Hispanic and Native American childen (already known to have a high rate of type 2 diabetes) had the highest fasting blood sugar levels;

* obese children are more than twice as likely to have diabetes as normal-weighted children

These findings concern the study authors, especially in light of the nationwide shortage of specialists who care for children with diabetes.

Now, in addition to the fact that half of U.S. children are significantly overweight or obese (and prone to the health problems discussed above), comes the troubling announcement that the problem is a global one and even a conservative estimate places the potential number of obese children in the European Union (EU) by 2010 at some 26 million.

Of that figure, approximately 20,000 will have type 2 diabetes, which had always been known as a disease affecting adults.

The analysis done by the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) considered global trends with respect to childhood obesity and concluded that even a conservative estimate would be that almost 50% of all children in North and South America could be overweight by 2010.

By 2010, childhood obesity could reach 10% in Europe, 11.5% in the Middle East, 15.2% in North and Sout America, 25% in China, and 5.3% in Asia. Not enough data was available to make any estimate with respect to Africa.

Industrialized countries as well as several “lower-income” countries are showing the same alarming trends since improper diet and inactivity are bad habits that have little to do with national borders.     

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