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Childhood obesity: what research tells us
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According to information published by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children are considered obese when their weight is at least 10 percent higher than recommended for their age and height. According to published reports from the Center for Health and Healthcare in Schools, obese or overweight children and teens are at risk for chronic diseases including the risk of new-onset asthma (which is greater in boys than in girls and across all ethnic groups) and type-2 diabetes (impaired glucose tolerance that can lead to blindness, heart disease, kidney disease and loss of limbs).

In a population-based sample, approximately 60 percent of obese kids between ages 5-10 years had at least one cardiovascular risk factor such as elevated total cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin or blood pressure, and 25 percent had two or more risk factors. The probability of childhood weight issues persisting into adulthood increases from approximately 20 percent at age 4 to between 40-80 percent by adolescence.

According to the Center for Disease Control, although having overweight parents doubles the risk of a child being obese, genetics cannot explain the recent epidemic in obesity because genetic characteristics have not changed in the last two decades but the prevalence of obesity among children and adults has doubled.

Because our society stigmatizes obesity, it should come as no surprise that obese or overweight children are 5.5 times more likely than their non-obese peers to experience a health-impaired quality of life (roughly comparable to a child or teen struggling with cancer). In research, overweight and obese children and youth report a lack of self-esteem, with increased rates of loneliness, sadness and nervousness.

Research also supports higher rates of smoking, alcohol consumption and drug abuse in these groups. Overweight and obese adolescents are more likely to be isolated, on the peripheral of social networks, than their normal-weight peers. Sadly adolescent boys and girls who experience teasing from two sources (family and peers) have higher rates of clinically significant emotional problems, including depression. A recent University of Michigan study found that 26 percent of teens teased at school and home and considered suicide, and nine percent had attempted it.

Parents should be alert to signs and symptoms that may indicate emotional distress: reduced energy or interests, increased isolation, sadness or anger, sleeping too much or not enough, reluctance to go to school, increased incidents of stomachaches or other physical complaints, having few friends and expressed or written thoughts of hurting others or himself.

Praise your child's strengths and accomplishments, identify and help them develop coping strategies for situations that lead to overeating, educate them and stress health risks instead of appearance issues, exercise with them and limit access to sedentary activities and high calorie, high fat and sugary foods, including soda and juices.

Reward attainment of weight goals, but do not use food to reward or punish kids. They are our most precious gifts - love them healthy.

Peggy Nolen is a licensed professional counselor in Covington. She specializes in recovery from traumatic experience, depression, anxiety and problems with drugs and alcohol. She can be reached at (770) 314-5924.