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Health Risks for Kids with a Weight Problem

Childhood obesity in the US is at an all-time high; rates have more than tripled since the ‘70s, with one in five school-aged children being obese, and one in three are overweight or obese. WebMD blames the modern lifestyle of too much “screen time” with video games and computer activities, resulting in very little physical activity. Some experts point the finger at poor diet, with children consuming too much sugar and low nutrient, highly processed foods. World Health Organization (WHO) also blames diet, and recommends a program that encourages people to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, as a means to increase daily nutrient intake and reduce overall calories. Unfortunately, no program or authority has offered a solution which has been able to successfully reverse the increasing waistlines of American children (or adults).

As expected, being overweight or obese causes significant health problems. Medical conditions once reserved only for adults are now cropping up in children; high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes (which used to be called “adult onset diabetes”), high cholesterol and even some types of cancers are being diagnosed in kids. And the consequences are far reaching- as children grow up, the health problems only become more serious.

A new study from JAMA Neurology looked at the long-term health implications for overweight and obese children. They collected data from several decades and found that children with higher than average body mass index (BMI) had increased risk of stroke well into adulthood, up until age 55. Older children with high BMI had an even larger risk of stroke than younger children with high BMI. After age 55, the correlation stopped.

The type of stroke referred to in this study is called an “ischemic” stroke- the type where a clot breaks off and blocks an important artery, cutting off the blood supply to the heart or brain. Depending on where the clot occurs, a person can experience paralysis, vision disturbance, memory loss, or speech problems. Seeing strokes in adults under 55 is uncommon, as they are typically seen in older adults. In the US, three of four stroke cases occur in adults over 65 years old. The consequences of childhood obesity should be a compelling incentive to the medical community and parents to find ways to help children to maintain a healthy weight.

JAMA Neurol. 2017 Aug 21. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.1627.

[Epub ahead of print] Association of Childhood Body Mass Index and Change in Body Mass Index With First Adult Ischemic Stroke. Gjærde LK

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