Child obesity tied to more health problems than previously thought: UCLA study

Jan. 14, 2013, 11:11 a.m.

A child on a playground. Besides diabetes and heart disease, child obesity can contribute to – among other conditions – learning disabilities, developmental delays and ear infections, UCLA researchers said. (Geoffrey Kehrig/Flickr Creative Commons)

Compared to their normal-weight counterparts, obese children face almost twice the risk of having three or more medical, mental or developmental conditions, UCLA researchers found – and the prognosis isn't much better for youngsters who are overweight.

That's the finding of a new study from the university's Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, which will appear in the January-February issue of Academic Pediatrics.

Children participating in the study were considered overweight if their body mass index (BMI) was between the 85th and 95th percentile, and obese if they had a BMI in the 95th percentile or higher. The study's authors were surprised to discover "just how many conditions were associated with childhood obesity," said lead author Dr. Neal Halfon in a statement.

Those conditions include, of course, diabetes, asthma and an increased risk of heart disease. But that's not all. Researchers say child obesity is also associated with:

– Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.
– Greater tendency toward emotional and behavioral problems.
– Higher rates of missed school days and repeating grades, among other academic issues.
– Depression.
– Learning disabilities.
– Developmental delays.
– Bone, joint and muscle problems.
– Allergies.
– Headaches.
– Ear infections.

The study's authors arrived at those conclusions after looking at more than 43,000 children between the ages of 10 and 17. The remedy for the situation will be complex, they added, because solutions have to address social and environmental factors and that are tightly interwoven.

While some areas have begun to see a decline in their respective child obesity rates, South Los Angeles doesn't look like one of those places – compared to the rest of the county, the southside has one of the highest, with about 30 percent of children qualifying as obese.

One study suggests focused community action could help remedy South Los Angeles' weight problems, and L.A. City Councilwoman and mayor candidate Jan Perry agreed.

Referring to the prevalence of heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illness, Perry told OnCentral that "obesity is the one issue we can attack as a community health issue to drive [those diseases'] numbers down and improve them."

Photo by Geoffrey Kehrig via Flickr Creative Commons.

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