Latest data suggests the prevalence of pediatric obesity is 19.3 percent in the United States, or roughly 14.4 million adolescents and children.
(PRUnderground) September 26th, 2023
In the U.S., increasing rates of children struggling with obesity is bringing the discussion of health and nutrition to the forefront — something Intermountain Health caregivers are hoping will shine a light on the far-reaching impact of this particular problem.
According to Ben Hermansen, a registered dietitian with Intermountain Sunset Clinic in St. George, Utah, some of the latest data suggests the prevalence of pediatric obesity is 19.3 percent in the United States, or roughly 14.4 million adolescents and children.
If the numbers aren’t enough to raise a red flag, the potential risks associated with childhood obesity may be enough to sound the alarm. Children and adolescents with obesity are at risk for a host of short- and long-term physiological and even psychological consequences, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes, fatty liver disease and sleep apnea, as well as increased stress, depressive symptoms, and low self-esteem, according to a January 2023 article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In his experience as a registered dietitian, Hermansen has seen a wide range of these kinds of cases, and he said it’s important for people to recognize the cause is not always as cut and dry as people tend to assume.
“I think there is a tendency to sum up the issue of childhood obesity as a matter of poor food choices and inactivity,” Hermansen said. “In reality, obesity has been shown to stem from a wide variety of mechanisms… including genetic factors, environmental-gene interactions, socioeconomic status, chemical exposure, evolutionary physiology, gut-microbiome disruptors, and epigenetic modifications.”
In other words, it’s a complex issue that requires more from parents and healthcare providers than simply limiting a child’s food intake.
“This is a sensitive issue, especially among children and adolescents,” Hermansen said. “The way that practitioners approach the subject with families can make all the difference.”
Rather than focusing strictly on weight and body mass index numbers, Hermansen said he typically finds it more effective to discuss how each family can cultivate a healthier lifestyle within the family dynamic.
“Research shows that interventions are most successful when the entire family is on board and involved with making healthier choices,” Hermansen said. “It’s never too late to start making healthy changes.”
This emphasis on “healthy lifestyle” can help to avoid some of the pitfalls that may arise if a parent or healthcare provider tries to implement a rigid diet plan for a child or adolescent.
According to American Academy of Pediatrics research shared by Hermansen, adolescents who “diet” are five times as likely to develop an eating disorder, thus exacerbating the problem.
“For this reason, it’s prudent to ensure interventions involving children do not include plan elements that result in restriction, exclusion, isolation, obsession, or practices that label foods ‘good’ or ‘bad,’” Hermansen said.
Even with all the complexities of this issue, one of the biggest influences for how a child views their body, and how well they take care of it, often comes down to the behavior they see modeled by the adults in their lives.
“Are there times when we as parents criticize our bodies or make comments about someone else’s? Do we over-praise a drop in clothing size? Are we perpetually looking for the next fad diet in hopes that it will magically solve our problems?” Hermansen said. “Working to overcome these attitudes and behaviors can make a positive difference for us as well as our children.”
About Intermountain Health
Headquartered in Utah with locations in seven states and additional operations across the western U.S., Intermountain Health is a nonprofit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,900 employed physicians and advanced care providers, a health plans division called Select Health with more than one million members, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information or updates, see https://intermountainhealthcare.org/news.
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