In Favor of Early Intervention for Childhood Obesity

Kid playing in the streets

Recently, reports appeared of a new study of childhood obesity, which is described as:

[…] the first comprehensive national profile of associations between weight status and a broad set of associated health conditions, or co-morbidities, that kids suffer from during childhood.

Lead author Dr. Neal Halfon, a professor of pediatrics and public health, is the director of UCLA’s Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities.

The study’s novelty is in its extent, covering data extracted from the health records of more than 43,000 children between 10 and 17 years old. As always, one of the problems of thorough research is the time lag. Facts need to be collected, gathered together, set in order, appropriately stored, then analyzed, rechecked, written up, and so on. Because of this, it is not surprising that the data originated from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health.

The other novelty is in the widespread nature of the data the team worked with, in contrast to previous studies of the same kind that narrowly focused on a single region or a single medical condition. One writer described it this way:

They assessed associations between weight status and 21 indicators of general health, psychosocial functioning and specific health disorders, adjusting for sociodemographic factors.

Overall, the researchers found, obese children were more likely than those who were classified as not overweight to have reported poorer health; more disability; a greater tendency toward emotional and behavioral problems; higher rates of grade repetition, missed school days and other school problems; ADHD; conduct disorder; depression; learning disabilities; developmental delays; bone, joint and muscle problems; asthma; allergies; headaches; and ear infections.

The thing is, these researchers were looking not just at long-term effects of childhood obesity, but the associated conditions that happen right away. The harm is not in the future, but immediate. Overweight and obese kids are much more likely to have co-morbitities — medical, mental or developmental conditions, and often more than one of them.

An article about behavioral counseling in the areas of maternity and child health care emphasizes again the difficulty of change:

Obesity originates prenatally and in early childhood… Once a child is obese it is difficult to reverse this adverse metabolic state with interventions. This supports the rationale to find early preventive interventions… An appropriate setting for these interventions would be municipal maternity and child health clinics, making it possible to reach the target population at moderate cost…

Childhood Obesity News has talked about the EarlyBird Diabetes Study, which stressed the same point. There is ever-increasing evidence that obesity needs to be looked at right from the first, with more emphasis than ever before on early intervention.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Childhood obesity linked to more immediate health problems,”, 01/14/13
Source: “Behavioral counseling to prevent childhood obesity – study protocol of a pragmatic trial in maternity and child health care,” BMC Pediatrics, 2012
Image by Frank Douwes.

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