Northwest NEWS

April 8, 2002


Healthy Living: Child and adolescent obesity

by Daniel R. Ball, MS
   Twenty-seven percent of children and 21 percent of teens are obese. This is an increase of 54 percent in the last 20 years. Fifty to 70 percent of these obese youngsters will be obese adults. The medical consequences of obesity vary, however obese children and teens have an increased prevalence of high blood pressure, respiratory problems, high cholesterol and triglycerides (serum blood fat), bone and joint maladies, a significantly higher risk of developing diabetes, and irregular menstruation. The psychosocial consequences of being overweight include peer teasing, scholastic discrimination, low self-esteem and negative body image.
   Much of the blame for this increase in childhood obesity lies in:
   Reduction or elimination of mandatory school fitness programs
   Excessive television viewing
   Excessive computer use and video game playing
   Fast-food consumption
   Children come in all shapes and sizes. The goal is for the child or teen to gradually attain their genetic bodybuild and maintain a health range within that body type. The goal of those with simple genetic obesity is to accept their genetics and to develop healthful habits and to avoid dieting.
   Weight loss for children and teens can be hazardous. Rapid weight loss or strict diets can affect growth and development, promote binge eating, slow metabolism and result in weight gain.
   An effective program builds on the strength of the family through support and the creation of an active lifestyle and a healthy but not depriving diet. The child must accept responsibility for diet and activity behavior as it relates to excessive weight gain. Diets typically cause children to feel deprived and as a result to overeat. Gradually adopt a moderate food intake that provides essential nutrients based on Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) and using the Food Pyramid to develop healthy eating habits.
   Exercise is a major component to any weight loss program. Stress overall fitness, including endurance, flexibility and strength. It is important for both children and parents to develop a more active lifestyle and replace television viewing and excessive computer use with interests, sports and projects that require some physical exertion
   Weight difficulties in children and adolescents are highly treatable when a family-based approach is taken. Studies have shown that if the treatment includes parents and a focus on the family's lifestyle and communication, weight loss can be achieved and maintained. Controlled studies have shown that when families participate as a whole, there is significant improvement in weight, self-esteem, depression, diet and exercise habits and weight management knowledge. Within this family approach to weight management, the parent also reaps benefits and sets a good example for the child. Include all persons in the child's life that have a "parental role in the child's development (aunts, care-providers, step-parents, etc.). Without parental support there is a high failure and/or relapse rate. Parents should not ask their child to do anything that they are not willing to do themselves.
   For more information about childhood obesity go to Children Better Health Institute at or Center for Disease Control at
   Daniel R. Ball, MS holds a Master Degree in Health Science, a Bachelor Degree in Physical Education and is a Master Level Personal Trainer with 16 years experience. He can be reached at (425) 844-4039 or