More than 300,000 deaths, annually, are attributed to obesity with healthcare costs exceeding $60 billion dollars. Of these statistics, an increasing number of individuals affected involve children. Obesity in children is at an all time high with statistics as never seen before. While the condition may be hereditary, genetic or a product of the environment, it is important that parents become vitally aware, and take responsibility, for the growth and development of children which includes education and guidance in weight control, fitness and nutrition. Understanding the health implications obesity will play on a child’s welfare is the first line of defense in educating parents in the appropriate course of action.
In children, the growth plates, particular in the legs, are susceptible to damage. When a child reaches a level of obesity, these growth plates become impaired, unable to function properly, and result in inadequate bone growth. This decrease in growth leads to flat feet, narrowing of the arches, knee pain, back pain and irregular hip position. For most children, these pains and deformities will progress into adulthood with little chance for recovery. It is the excess weight, on a child’s body, which creates these deformed growth patterns which then leads to a cyclical effect in which the child is unable to perform any level of physical activity and, thus, gains more weight. The key, then, is to prevent obesity from occurring.
In addition to the growth impairment and pain associated with obesity, many obese children find they are unable to perform physical activities due to the inability to rise in and out of a chair, inability to mobilize the hips and are often discouraged due to emotional factors including self esteem, peer pressure and depression. With decreased mobility, coupled with emotional distress, the child may turn to eating as a comfort to ease the pain of social non-acceptance. For these children, an individual or family styled fitness program, outside of school, is vitally important in addition to education, at home, in proper eating habits.
Fractures are quite common in obese children. Although not much research has been done as to the causal relationship of fractures in obese children, the theory lies in the malnutrition, which leads to bone deterioration, coupled with the lack of mobility which may attribute to frequent falls. Suffering from a fracture only further complicates the health of the obese child as the recovery is delayed due to improper bone growth structure.
For parents of an obese child, education is paramount. Understanding the full affect obesity will have a child, during growth and development, should be a primary driving force behind the motivation to make a change. Beyond education, parents should educate, motivate and participate in regular exercise and dietary programs at home encouraging the obese child to participate without ridicule. Leading by example will improve the health of the child and will instill the necessary education and information required to continue a healthy lifestyle into adulthood.
For parents seeking resources in child friendly fitness programs, visit www.marathonkids.com. For information concerning orthopedic disorders in children, visit www.kidshealth.org.