As obesity reaches epidemic levels among American adults, it is no surprise that it also is affecting the nation’s children and teenagers. What may surprise you, though, is the extent to which it is a problem in our area. Tennessee has the fifth-highest rate of childhood obesity in the nation. An August 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that, while 18 states have shown declining childhood obesity rates, three states – Pennsylvania, Colorado and Tennessee – have seen increases.
Program coordinator Dawn Hollaway from Blount Memorial Hospital’s Diabetes Management Center says children who struggle with childhood obesity are more likely to be at risk for developing diabetes. “Overweight children can develop high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels, both of which are risk factors for diabetes. These and other risk factors that can be traced back to childhood have led to the term ‘pre-diabetes,’” she said. “The short-term side effects of childhood obesity and pre-diabetes can include bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and psychological issues from stigmatization and low self esteem. On a longer time span, it’s important to note that children and teens who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults. Obese adults are, of course, at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis and various types of cancer,” she explained.
The trouble with type 2 diabetes in children, Hollaway says, is that it can go undiagnosed for a long time. “Children may have very mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all,” she said. “Part of the confusion can come from the fact that differentiating between type 2 diabetes and type 1 diabetes can be tough. Kids with type 1 diabetes, for example, may be obese, while kids with type 2 diabetes may develop ketoacidosis. To diagnose type 2 diabetes, children typically will need blood tests,” she explained.
As for testing children for high cholesterol, Hollaway says the guidelines for when to do so have changed. “Until late 2011, most major medical groups suggested that only children with a family history of early heart disease or high cholesterol, and those who were obese and had diabetes or high blood pressure should be regularly tested. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Heart, Lung, Blood Institute recommends every child be tested for high cholesterol between age 9 and 11, with a second screening between ages 17 and 21,” she explained.
Hollaway says there are ways to prevent childhood obesity. “First, be a good role model to your kids. If they see you eating right and being physically active, it will send a message that good health is important to the family. Another part of that is getting the whole family involved in activities such as walks, bike rides, swimming, gardening or simply playing games outside. Be positive when talking about diet and weight issues with your kids, remembering to praise them for a job well done and celebrate their successes. Any goals you set with them or allow them to set for themselves should be realistic ones that emphasize gradual changes and small steps,” she explained. “You also can limit the amount of time they spend on sedentary activities, such as watching television, playing video games or browsing the internet,” she said. “Most importantly, remember that it is much easier to teach a healthy lifestyle in the earlier years of life, than it is as the child gets older,” she added.
Join the Blount Memorial Diabetes Management Center on Tuesday, Nov. 5 from 6-7:30 p.m. in the hospital auditorium for the annual Diabetes Services Fair. Admission to the event is free, but attendees are encouraged to bring a canned or non-perishable food item to donate to the Blount County Food Connection. For more information or to register by Monday, Nov. 4, call 865-977-5767.