Obesity and heart disease in children
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Obesity and heart disease in children

Post by Dr Sana Salim Khan on Thursday, September 29, 2022

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Being an overweight child is no picnic — it can be hard to keep up with your friends on the playground, you can’t wear some of the same styles of clothing other kids do, and the teasing can be merciless. 

Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents. It's particularly troubling because the extra pounds often start children on the path to health problems that were once considered adult problems which includes diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Childhood obesity can also lead to poor self-esteem and depression.

Risk factors

Causes of obesity can be mostly lifestyle related. It is widely accepted that increase in obesity results from an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure, with an increase in positive energy balance being closely associated with the lifestyle adopted and the dietary intake preferences.

However, there is increasing evidence indicating that an individual's genetic background is important in determining obesity risk. Family characteristics parenting style, parents’ lifestyles also play a role. Environmental factors such as school policies, demographics, and parents’ work-related demands further influence eating and activity behaviours.

Many factors — usually working in combination — increase your child's risk of becoming overweight:

  • Diet:Regularly eating high-calorie foods, such as fast foods, baked goods and vending machine snacks, can cause your child to gain weight. Candy and desserts also can cause weight gain, and more and more evidence points to sugary drinks, including fruit juices and sports drinks, as culprits in obesity in some people.
  • Lack of exercise:Children who don't exercise much are more likely to gain weight because they don't burn as many calories. Too much time spent in sedentary activities, such as watching television or playing video games, also contributes to the problem. TV shows also often feature ads for unhealthy foods.
  • Family factors:If your child comes from a family of overweight people, he or she may be more likely to put on weight. This is especially true in an environment where high-calorie foods are always available and physical activity isn't encouraged.
  • Psychological factors:Personal, parental and family stress can increase a child's risk of obesity. Some children overeat to cope with problems or to deal with emotions, such as stress, or to fight boredom. Their parents might have similar tendencies.
  • Socioeconomic factors:People in some communities have limited resources and limited access to supermarkets. As a result, they might buy convenience foods that don't spoil quickly, such as frozen meals, crackers and cookies. Also, people who live in lower income neighbourhoods might not have access to a safe place to exercise.
  • Certain medications:Some prescription drugs can increase the risk of developing obesity. They include prednisone, lithium, amitriptyline, paroxetineetc.

 

Physical complications

Physical complications of childhood obesity may include:

  • Type 2 diabetes:This chronic condition affects the way your child's body uses sugar (glucose). Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • High cholesterol and high blood pressure:A poor diet can cause your child to develop one or both of these conditions. These factors can contribute to the build-up of plaques in the arteries, which can cause arteries to narrow and harden, possibly leading to a heart attack or stroke later in life.
  • Joint pain:Extra weight causes extra stress on hips and knees. Childhood obesity can cause pain and sometimes injuries in the hips, knees and back.
  • Breathing problems:Asthma is more common in children who are overweight. These children are also more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder in which a child's breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: This disorder, which usually causes no symptoms, causes fatty deposits to build up in the liver. NAFLD can lead to scarring and liver damage.

On the occasion of this world heart day, we are talking about the rising rates of obesity in children and the associated rise in heart diseases in children. Previously in India, malnutrition children were considered to be only those who are below expected their expected weights for age. But with the popularization of fast foods and sedentary life styles more and more children are being found overweight which is also a form of malnutrition.

Obesity, in turn, is triggering a host of other heart disease risk factors in children, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol which were considered "adult" health problems until recently .This has resulted in a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop non-communicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. 

Progressive rise in the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and other nutrition related chronic diseases (NRCDs) like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer. It is emerging convincingly that the genesis of Type 2 Diabetes and Coronary Heart Disease begins in childhood, with childhood obesity serving as an important factor.

There has been a phenomenal rise in proportions of children having obesity in the last 4 decades, especially in the developed world. Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. The problem is global and is steadily affecting many low and middle income countries, particularly in urban settings. The prevalence has increased at an alarming rate. Globally the number of overweight children under the age of five was estimated to be over 42 million. Close to 35 million of these are living in developing countries.

 

Impact of obesity on overall cardiac heath

In a study Comparing 20 obese kids with 20 normal-weight kids, researchers found that obesity was linked to 27 percent more muscle mass in the left ventricle of their hearts and 12 percent thicker heart muscles which are both signs of heart disease.

Researchers have cautioned that heart problems during childhood may lead to more complicated health conditions in adulthood as well as premature death from heart disease. Obesity in childhood and adolescence is associated with established risk factors for cardiovascular diseases and accelerated atherosclerotic processes, including elevated blood pressure (BP), atherogenic dyslipidaemia, atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes mellitus, cardiac structural and functional changes and obstructive sleep apnea.

Obesity compromises pulmonary function and increases the risk of sleep-disordered breathing and obstructive sleep apnea. Neglecting childhood and adolescent obesity will compromise the cardiovascular health of the pediatric population and is likely to result in a serious public health crisis in future.

 

How to prevent weight gain in your children?

To help prevent excess weight gain in your child, you can:

  • Set a good example:Make healthy eating and regular physical activity a family affair. Everyone will benefit and no one will feel singled out.
  • Have healthy snacks available:Options include air-popped popcorn without butter, fruits with low-fat yogurt, baby carrots with hummus, or whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk.
  • Offer new foods multiple times:Don't be discouraged if your child doesn't immediately like a new food. It usually takes multiple exposures to a food to gain acceptance.
  • Choose non food rewards:Promising candy for good behaviour is a bad idea.
  • Be sure your child gets enough sleep:Some studies indicate that too little sleep may increase the risk of obesity. Sleep deprivation can cause hormonal imbalances that lead to increased appetite.