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Obesity puts kids at risk for adult problems

Tue., Aug. 31, 2010

Not long ago I diagnosed type 2 diabetes, once called “adult-onset diabetes,” in an 11-year-old boy.

This sounds unusual, but unfortunately it is becoming more common. As obesity increases in children, their bodies become resistant to insulin.

Other problems associated with obesity and seen more often in children include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep disturbances, depression and joint problems.

These conditions should not be affecting our children. Although physical activity (addressed in my Aug. 17 column) is an important part of reducing childhood obesity, it is not the only part.

Obesity is defined by body mass index (BMI), calculated using a person’s weight and height.

For children, BMI is compared to values for others of the same age and gender. People under 20 with a BMI over the 85th percentile are overweight. You can calculate your child’s BMI at

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years. How do we change this?

Studies show that overweight children who increase their physical activity, but do not change their diet, can usually maintain their current weight.

If they change their diets – eat more fruits and vegetables, less sugary and fatty foods, and smaller portions – but do not increase physical activity, they can usually lose a little weight.

However, if overweight children both increase their physical activity and change their diets, they will usually lose more weight than those who only alter their eating.

Typically, the recommendation for an overweight child not yet in adolescence is to maintain the child’s weight so that they can grow into it as they get taller. For an overweight child in early adolescence, weight loss is usually recommended.

If your child is overweight and a change in their diet and increased physical activity do not seem to be having the desired results, it is OK to ask that genetic diseases and hormonal disorders be ruled out as underlying causes.

When I say, “If they change their diets,” I really mean if we as the adults in their lives change what we buy at the grocery store. It does not do much good to tell children not to eat chips and cookies if we still buy them.

When you do your shopping, try to look for whole-grain foods, buy more fruits and vegetables, choose lean meats or other low-fat protein sources (for example, beans or tofu), and find foods lower in added salt and sugars.

If your child only likes a couple of vegetables, make the most of that and keep trying new ones prepared in different ways. You can find some free recipes at

You want your child to have a breakfast with protein every morning. Skipping breakfast can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 30 percent. Yogurt, eggs, cheese and meats are good sources of protein.

Encourage your child to drink water instead of juices, sodas and sports drinks.

Setting a good example and making it clear that these changes are for everyone’s health will help your child make healthy food choices on his or her own later, at home and away from home.

There is a guide to healthy eating and lots of helpful information and resources at

Other ideas that can help include sitting down as a family at the table for meals, dining out less often and not eating in front of the television or computer. Limit television to less than one hour per day at home and emphasize activity instead of talking about exercise.

As I said in my last column, playtime at recess, walking to and from school or the bus stop, household chores, physical education class, playtime after school and on the weekends, and organized sports all count as physical activity.

If your child is not overweight, it is still a good idea to consider these recommendations. Habits started in childhood can last a lifetime.

Learning these things now can reduce your child’s risk of stroke, heart attack and even cancer as an adult. It can make a difference for your whole family, so this may be the time to set an example and start doing these things for yourself too.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your questions and comments to

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