Obesity A Childhood Conundrum or National Public Health Apocalypse?

Is Childhood Obesity Reaching National Public Health Emergency Status?

Childhood Obesity: A Battle Worth Fighting

Oct. 16, 2023 – The incident happened years ago, but MaKenna Schmidt, 18, of Otsego, MN, can still recall it in vivid detail. Imagine being on a bus as an innocent 8-year-old, and some insensitive soul blurts out, “You look pregnant!” Ouch! That sting stays with you. And that’s not all – she also endured hurtful comments about her weight, with classmates pointing out her big stomach. Talk about a blow to the self-esteem. Even during dreaded gym class, MaKenna was always at the back, feeling the heat of embarrassment.

Since then, Schmidt has sought medical help, embraced healthier eating habits, and lost an impressive 30 pounds. But the journey isn’t over yet. She’s determined to shed even more excess weight. Kudos to MaKenna for her resilience and determination!

Today, countless other children and teenagers are facing similar insults that haunt them for a lifetime. Brace yourself for this alarming fact: obesity affects around 14.7 million kids and teens, which accounts for almost 20% of that age population, according to the CDC. (Just to clarify, children whose weight is at the 95th percentile, compared to other U.S. children of the same age and sex, are classified as obese.) Those numbers should give us all pause.

Now, here’s some history – national childhood obesity rates in the U.S. rose from the 1970s until the early 2000s, as shared in the State of Childhood Obesity. Though the growth has slowed down since then, childhood obesity remains a serious public health concern.

One thing is clear – it’s time to act. In an opinion piece published in the prestigious journal Pediatrics, three distinguished experts in obesity medicine propose that we seriously consider declaring childhood obesity a public health emergency. It’s time to tackle this issue head-on and stop procrastinating.

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released groundbreaking guidelines for the evaluation and treatment of children and teens with obesity. The guidelines reject the idea of simply waiting and watching as kids struggle with their weight. Instead, they urge doctors to take action sooner, using options such as newly approved obesity medications when necessary. And let’s not forget the importance of a family-based approach – it’s what works best!

Now, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty. Research reveals that letting children with obesity “grow out of it” is wishful thinking. In fact, studies show that obese children and adolescents are five times more likely to be obese as adults compared to their non-obese peers. If we intervene earlier and more decisively, we can save these children from a lifetime of battling obesity-related risks, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, sleep apnea, and even osteoporosis. It’s time to break this vicious cycle!

But what about declaring childhood obesity as a public health emergency? Sounds bold, right? Well, according to Dr. Eric Bomberg, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota and co-author of the Pediatrics opinion piece, it’s a suggestion worth exploring. Currently, there’s no precedence for such a declaration, but with the rampant nature of this disease, it deserves serious consideration.

Of course, it’s important to carefully consider both sides of the argument. On one hand, declaring a public health emergency for childhood obesity could bring resources and attention to the cause, just like we’ve seen with previous emergencies like the opioid addiction epidemic and the notorious COVID-19. On the other hand, there are concerns that resources might get diverted from other vital efforts, such as combating opioid addiction. Additionally, some worry that stigmatizing weight might become more prevalent, and the public might dismiss it as “one too many” emergencies.

Ultimately, Dr. Bomberg suggests further study before making any rash decisions. With the recent release of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines, we’re moving in the right direction. These comprehensive guidelines stress the urgency of treatment and the safety and effectiveness of obesity interventions for children. They even propose considering weight loss medications, such as semaglutide (Wegovy), for children aged 12 and above, in combination with lifestyle changes.

While some doctors are skeptical about the use of weight loss drugs, success stories like MaKenna’s can change minds. She’s been taking semaglutide and has already shed an impressive 30 pounds. With her weight dropping from a high of 223 pounds to a current 190, she’s moving from the obese category to overweight. Talk about progress!

Another patient shared by Dr. Bomberg lost over 50 pounds in just three months with the help of obesity medication. The difference it made was so profound that even the patient’s mother couldn’t help shedding tears of joy. These success stories highlight the potential of obesity medications in transforming lives.

Of course, let’s not forget the importance of a family-centered approach. It’s no secret that the environment at home plays a crucial role in children’s health. Take, for instance, the Healthy Weight Clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. This program evaluates children as young as 2 and involves the whole family. It’s a compassionate approach that recognizes that larger bodies are not due to parental failures but a medical condition that requires support and the right tools. The focus is on providing tips on nutrition, treating food as medicine, and encouraging physical activity. In some cases, referrals for obesity surgery might also be necessary.

Speaking of families, the struggle to provide healthy meals is all too familiar for working parents. Schmidt’s mother, a single parent, and her busy grandmother often had to resort to fast food or simple and affordable meals. But with age comes wisdom, and now that MaKenna is in college, she has more control over her food choices and has learned to make healthier decisions.

So, where do experts weigh in on the concept of declaring childhood obesity a public health emergency? Well, neither the American Academy of Pediatrics nor the Obesity Society has taken a firm stand on this matter. However, they both agree on one thing – sparking conversations and raising awareness about pediatric obesity is crucial. We can’t afford to stay silent any longer.

In the end, MaKenna sums it up beautifully. Losing weight and maintaining a healthier lifestyle is an ongoing, lifelong effort. It’s a journey that requires continuous dedication and perseverance. But the rewards? They’re worth it. And just like MaKenna, we should all strive to be in a better spot – physically and mentally. Let’s fight this battle together and ensure that our children lead long, healthy lives, free from the limitations imposed by obesity.

Readers, have you or your loved ones faced similar challenges with obesity? How do you feel about declaring childhood obesity a public health emergency? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences! Share them in the comments below. Remember, your voice matters!