Obese children face many more immediate health issues and are at increased risk for medical, mental and developmental problems than was previously thought, according to a new report.
The study based on UCLA research found that obese children – those with a Body Mass Index (BMI) in the 95th percentile or above – are nearly two times more likely to have three or more physical or mental conditions than kids with a healthy weight.
Overweight children – those with a BMI in the 85th to 95th percentile – had about 1.3 times higher risk of developing adverse health conditions.
While most previous research focused on long-term health problems which could develop during adulthood, this study looked at the immediate consequences of childhood obesity.
The findings were based on information taken from a much wider and larger sample of participants than previous similar studies, according to researchers. Fifteen percent of the children studied were considered to be overweight and 16 percent were obese.
Compared to their normal-weight peers, obese children were more likely to be in poorer health, have more disabilities and more emotional and behavioral problems, such as having to repeat a grade, missing school and other educational difficulties.
Children classified as obese were also more likely to have conduct disorders, depression, learning disabilities, developmental delays as well as physical ailments such as bone, joint and muscle problems, allergies, headaches, asthma and ear infections.
“This study paints a comprehensive picture of childhood obesity, and we were surprised to see just how many conditions were associated with childhood obesity,” said lead author Dr. Neal Halfon, a UCLA professor who directs the Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities. “The findings should serve as a wake-up call to physicians, parents and teachers, who should be better informed of the risk for other health conditions associated with childhood obesity so that they can target interventions that can result in better health outcomes.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers childhood obesity to be “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.” In 2010, the WHO found there were more than 42 million children under five worldwide who are overweight. Close to 35 million of those children live in developing countries.