Kids with ‘adult’ problems

Nationwide survey shows that children are headed toward serious health problems related to excess weight

Poor nutrition and lack of exercise contribute to the rising rate of obesity in American children. Obesity, or being extremely overweight, is linked to a number of serious health issues. Chris Fertnig/iStockphoto

When adults say kids “grow up too soon,” they’re usually not talking about health problems. But two new studies reveal that kids are dealing with more than just the normal bumps and bruises of childhood. The studies show that young Americans increasingly have to deal with adult ailments such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

In February, U.S. government researchers reported that about 1 in every 6 Americans age 12 to 19 is so overweight that they’re at high risk of developing serious health problems. Those problems may include type 2 diabetes, a disease that throws off important processes involved in using food. So perhaps it’s not too surprising that a newer study, also by U.S. government researchers, found that type 2 diabetes is on the rise among American kids.

The more recent study also found that about 1 in 7 Americans age 12 to 19 either has high blood pressure or may soon develop it. In this condition, blood presses too hard against the walls of blood vessels, which can lead to heart disease and other problems. High blood pressure, like diabetes, goes hand in hand with obesity.

And that’s not all: About 1 in 5 children has high levels of “bad” cholesterol, a type of fat carried through the body by blood. Globs of cholesterol contribute to the development of something called plaque. These fatty deposits accumulate on the walls of arteries and can eventually slow or block blood flow. If the plaques break apart — as they often do in older adults — they can cause a heart attack.

Both new studies used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a program of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. First administered in the 1960s, this series of surveys has over time been gathering health information about people in the United States. Each participant in the survey answers questions from a health researcher and goes through a physical examination.

The authors of the more recent study concluded that everyone can benefit from a healthy lifestyle, which includes “physical activity, healthy diet, and healthy weight maintenance.”

In other words, maybe it’s time to ditch SpongeBob and potato chips and head outside. With a carrot.

Power words

obesity Extremely overweight. Obesity is associated with a wide range of health problems, including type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

type 2 diabetes A disease caused by the body’s inability to effectively use insulin, a hormone that helps the body process and use sugars. Unless diabetes is controlled, a person faces the risk of heart disease, coma or death.

high blood pressure A serious health condition where blood presses too hard against the walls of blood vessels as it flows. This condition can lead to heart disease, heart attack, kidney failure, stroke and other problems.

cholesterol An important compound found in many bodily tissues and foods. When it accumulates in fatty deposits along the inside of the arteries, it can block the flow of blood.

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