Children’s Health: Generation Y is Becoming Generation XL
Parents say they want their children to grow up to be doctors, firemen, or cowboys—anything but fat.
These days there isn’t a lack of targets in the schoolyard because of a massive wave that’s hit our shoreline like a tsunami—childhood obesity. This is not to excuse the present cohort of American adults, who are fatter, less fit, and more prone to disease than previous generations, but today’s new generation are supersized like never before in human history. And it’s all happened in the last twenty-five years!
Over the past few decades, a steady but dramatic increase in obesity has occurred throughout the entire U.S. population, but nowhere has this been more noticeable than among our children. Currently, one-third of America’s youth are either obese or at risk of becoming obese.
Over the past thirty years, the obesity rate has nearly tripled for children ages two to five (from 5 to 14 percent) and quadrupled for children ages six to eleven (from 5 percent to 19 percent), according to a report from the Institute of Medicine. Overall, the number of obese children is expected to rise to one in five, or 20 percent, by 2010, prompting Richard H. Carmona, M.D., the U.S. Surgeon General from 2002 to 2006, to declare, “Generation Y is turning into Generation XL.”
And if you’re hoping that your child will “grow out” of his or her chubbiness, you need to take off your rose-colored glasses. “Contrary to popular belief, young children who are overweight or obese typically won’t lose the extra weight simply as a result of getting older,” said Duane Alexander, M.D., the Director of NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The unblinking reality is that overweight and obese children face considerable heath perils in the future, including these serious conditions:
• Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetes has become a growing concern in the last decade since it can cause blindness, heart and kidney disease, and loss of limbs. Unfortunately, the number of prescriptions for the treatment or prevention of type 2 diabetes in children doubled between 2001 and 2005. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) predicts that one out of three children born after the year 2000 will eventually develop type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, researchers say those who develop type 2 diabetes before the age of fifteen will have a shortened life expectancy of approximately fifteen years.
• High cholesterol and high blood pressure: An estimated 61 percent of overweight young people face at least one additional risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Elevated cholesterol levels cause the development of cholesterol-containing fatty deposits—known as plaque—to form and begin traveling through the blood vessels. Over time, plaque clogs arteries and veins like sludge in a drainpipe. The earlier plaque develops in young blood vessels, the worse for the body. High blood pressure—also known as hypertension—increases one’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease or kidney disease, as well as having a stroke. The scary thing about high blood pressure is that there are no warning signs or symptoms for this condition, which is why it is been nicknamed the “silent killer.” Significantly elevated blood pressure has been found more commonly in obese children than their non-obese peers.
• Pediatric GERD. Doctors are seeing more cases of pediatric gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is much more painful than a regular stomachache. To show you how new pediatric GERD is, the oldest support organization, Pediatric/Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association, was formed only in 1992.
• Joint stress: The weight-bearing joints of obese kids—hips, knees, and ankles—aren’t designed to survive the additional pounding that comes from hefting excess weight. Degenerative arthritis of the hips, knees, and ankles is inevitable and limits physical activity, which sets in motion a vicious circle: more weight, more pain, and less activity. At a time when young bodies are growing like weeds, obesity can lead to bowing of the legs and the possibility of more bone fractures. Obesity researcher Jack Yanovski found that overweight children were far more likely to suffer a fracture than their ideal-weight peers. Heavy children also had more bone and hip joint abnormalities, which can lead to permanent deformities.
• Other risks: Not to pile on, but other health dangers include shortness of breath and/or asthma, sleep apnea, skin rashes, and clinical depression. Obesity has been long associated with low self-esteem.
Looking to the future, too many children born since 2000 may need insulin injections, experience kidney problems, live with a weakened immune system, go on dialysis, and battle glaucoma and other eye problems related to diabetes.