If you're not familiar with Google Alerts, they're a wonderful way to learn when something important to you has appeared on the internet. I've signed up to receive alerts for children's sports, children's physical activity, and childhood obesity, among others. The latter is the one that nets me the most e-mails; the subject of childhood obesity is all over the internet: in news stories, columns, and blogs. And even though the alerts come daily and are never repeated, I often get the feeling that I've seen these stories before. Unfortunately, the same applies to the studies I'm alerted to. There's a redundancy about them that makes me want to yell, "Why do we need more studies? We already know the results; let's just get on with solving the problems!"
Nevertheless, I'm about to report on two recent studies -- neither of which offers surprising information -- but that I think we'd better take seriously.
The first, a long-term Danish study, reported at WebMD, shows that overweight children grow into adults at high risk of early heart disease and early heart death. The basis for that determination was data from 10,235 men and 4,318 women born in Copenhagen from 1930 to 1976. The bottom line: After the age of 7, overweight children have an increased risk of adult heart disease. The higher a child's body mass index, the higher the risk that the child will become an adult with heart disease.
With childhood obesity an escalating problem, experts predict that by 2020, 30% to 37% of 34-year-old men and 34% to 44% of 35-year-old women will be obese. By 2035, there could be up to a 16% increase in heart disease cases, with over 100,000 cases due to obesity. Harvard researcher David Ludwig (whom I recently interviewed for Body, Mind and Child) predicts that by 2050, the obesity crisis in this country will cut Americans' life expectancy by two to five years. That would equal the effect of all cancers combined.
All of this means that we really need to take the second study quite seriously. Because the report is brief, I'll excerpt it directly from the New York Times. Eric Nagourney wrote this piece titled "Growing Pains: Many Parents Fail to See Obesity in Children":
When researchers from the University of Michigan surveyed more than 2,000 parents about their children’s health, they heard some good news. Despite the growing obesity problem, many of these parents could report that their sons and daughters, at least, were “about the right weight.”
The numbers, alas, told another story. The parents were also asked to provide information about the children’s height and weight — and many of the 6-to-11- year-olds turned out to be obese. Yet more than 40 percent of their parents appeared unaware of this.
The findings grew out of the National Poll on Children’s Health by the C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital. The researchers found that over all, 25 percent of the children whose parents were surveyed were overweight or obese.
Among the parents of obese children ages 6 to 11, only 13 percent described their child as very overweight (the percentage was 31 percent for parents whose obese children were 12 to 17).
Dr. Matthew M. Davis, a pediatrician and internist who directed the poll, said he and other doctors wondered why parents who brought overweight children in for appointments so often did not seem concerned.
But, Dr. Davis said, “If they don’t actually perceive their children to have excess weight, then how can we realistically expect them to make changes?”
Maybe having the schools sent home notices to parents isn't such a bad idea after all?