Saturday, December 15, 2007

Childhood and Adolescent Obesity - A Real Concern

Well, this is another blog entry that is not a bariatric surgery issue, but a real public health and epidemiology concern. The New England Journal of Medicine issue of December 6, 2007, has three excellent articles:

1. Childhood Obesity — The Shape of Things to Come by Dr. D.S. Ludwig (Link) from Harvard Medicalo School
2. Childhood Body-Mass Index and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Adulthood by Dr. J.L. Baker and others (Link) from Copenhagen, Denmark
3. Adolescent Overweight and Future Adult Coronary Heart Disease by Dr. K. Bibbins-Domingo and Others (Link) from the University of California, San Francisco

The Journal is making the full text of those articles (not just the abstracts) available for free.

In the perspective article "Childhood Obesity — The Shape of Things to Come", Dr. David Ludwig (Director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program, Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School) views the obesity epidemic as consisting of four phases. The first phase (began in the early 1970s) witnessed a progressive increase of the average weight among children from all socioeconomic levels and geographic areas in the United States.

The second phase, which we are now entering, is characterized by the emergence of serious weight-related problems in adolescents, including type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, orthopedic problems, sleep apnea, social isolation, anxiety, and depression.

Phase 3 will signal opening the doors for the medical complications of obesity to lead to life-threatening or limb-threatening disease. There will be an increased risk of coronary heart disease in adulthood, a high risk for limb amputation, kidney failure requiring dialysis, and premature death. The article quotes that the risk of dying by middle age is already two to three times as high among obese adolescent girls as it is among those of normal weight. Dr. Ludwig has predicted that pediatric obesity may shorten life expectancy in the United States by 2 to 5 years by midcentury, which would be equal to that of all cancers combined.

Phase 4 of the epidemic, if allowed to take place, will lead to even higher obesity rates because of transgenerational mechanisms.

Those articles are a highly recommended reading for anyone who feels that childhood obesity is hitting home.