Amidst all the positive news about improvement in the battle against childhood obesity, researchers specializing in pediatrics have created a new class of pediatric obesity called "severe" obesity, reported Philly News on September 9. And the need for a new classification makes it clear that the battle of the bulge among kids remains to be won.
About five percent of children and teens qualify for this category, which puts them at high risk for premature heart disease and type 2 diabetes, the researchers revealed in an American Heart Association scientific statement published in the Sept. 9 online edition of Circulation.
"We are defining a new class of pediatric obesity called 'severe' obesity," said lead researcher Aaron Kelly, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis. "This type of obesity is different than traditional obesity and overweight in children," he said. "It is an extreme form of obesity."
In order to qualify as severely obese, children must have a body mass index (BMI) above the 95th percentile for their sex and age, or a BMI of 35 or higher. BMI is a measure of weight in relation to height, and a child in the 95th percentile weighs more than 95 percent of other children the same sex and age.
As an example, Kelly said that a 7-year-old girl of average height who weighs 75 pounds, or a 13-year-old boy of average height who weighs 160 pounds, would both be considered severely obese. These children face "both immediate and long-term health consequences," Kelly said.
Among the risks: High blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and early signs of narrowing in the arteries, all of which puts these children and teens in danger of developing heart disease early in life.
One key problem with childhood obesity is that experts themselves are not certain of the best method. Some are concerned that putting children on diets puts them at risk of developing low self-esteem and even eating disorders. In contrast, some schools are taking the step of weighing children and sending "fat letters" to parents to enlist them in the weight loss battle: Learn more by clicking here.
"How much better and more cost-effective [would it] be to impart life skills to these young people, through innovative models? Such models exist, but are not yet established as alternatives to surgery," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. He termed the statement an "important and timely reminder" that general obesity may be stabilizing among U.S. children -- but severe obesity is "rising briskly."
"We must do all we can to minimize the development of severe obesity in the first place," Katz said. "But for the large number of kids already in this plight, my hope is that we can validate and fund behavioral options that rely on skills, so that we may rely a bit less on scalpels."
Agreeing with him is a powerful partner: First Lady Michelle Obama. Her "Let's Move" program has made strides in encouraging educators to add fitness to their schedules while improving school lunches.