No parent wants to hear their child is likely to develop a serious disease. But if your teen is obese - 10 percent higher than what is recommended for their height and body type - he or she could be at a much higher risk for Type 2 diabetes, a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that half of American overweight teens have unhealthy blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar levels.
The rise in Type 2 diabetes among today's youth is a real concern. The study showed that the percentage of adolescents who were diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes rose dramatically from 9 percent in 1999 to 21 percent in 2008. Pre-diabetics have higher than normal blood sugar levels, but not high enough to count as diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, is a condition that until recently doctors almost never saw in kids. But that was before the childhood obesity epidemic.
That's a shockingly high figure that has dire implications to the health of this entire generation of children. If you weren't concerned about the childhood obesity yet, this report should sound the alarm.
Doctors say it's one thing for an overweight or obese adult gaining an extra few pounds a year to develop diabetes at age 65 and then have a heart attack. It's a very different thing if the clock starts ticking at age 10, because children have so many more years to suffer the consequences of the serious medical problems related to obesity.
Diabetic teens will someday be diabetic adults struggling to keep their blood sugar levels under control. They will also be saddled with the possible results of long-term diabetes such as blindness, nerve damage, heart attacks and strokes.
The good news is that parents can help their children turn things around now. Young children and teens can avoid these lifetime health problems by losing the extra pounds and getting fit before type 2 diabetes and other health problems have a chance to develop. Several promising studies suggest that by making changes in diet and exercise patterns and losing a few pounds, overweight children can reduce their diabetes risk.
Western Upper Peninsula Health Department works with area schools, preschools, health care providers and other community partners to help reduce childhood overweight and obesity. Many schools have begun to promote safe walking and biking to school. Schools also are revising policies to improve the nutritional quality of the meals they serve and to remove soda and junk food from vending machines.
In collaboration with area schools and after-school and summer programs, the health department will be developing new health education programs over the coming months and years. We believe these programs will help prevent diabetes among today's teens, and reduce the burden of chronic disease, disability and premature death in the future. In fact, as this report points out, the health effects of childhood obesity are not just worst-case predictions of some faraway future. The future is now, and this is our call to action.
Editor's note: Ray Sharp is manager of community planning and preparedness at Western U.P. Health Department.