Guest Blogger: Don Weisman, Government Relations Director
Recently the American Heart Association released a scientific statement defining a new class of childhood obesity, “severely obese.” About 5 percent of U.S. children and teens currently fall into this classification.
It defines children over age 2 as severely obese if they either have a body mass index (BMI) that’s at least 20 percent higher than the 95th percentile for their gender and age, or a BMI score of 35 or higher. A 7-year-old girl of average height weighing 75 pounds, or a 13-year-old boy of average height weighing 160 pounds, would be defined as severely obese. While overall childhood obesity rates are starting to level off, severe obesity has increased.
Severe obesity in young people has grave health consequences, said Aaron Kelly, Ph.D., lead author of the statement and a researcher at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “It’s a much more serious childhood disease than obesity.”
Severely obese children have higher rates of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular issues at younger ages, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and early signs of atherosclerosis-the disease that clogs arteries.
When asked about the statement local doctor Stephen Bradley, M.D., AHA Hawaii Division Board member and chief medical officer at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, noted “there are really no new ways of treating severe obesity in children. The child’s environment is extremely important. Anything that reduces an upbringing that results in obesity is paramount. That includes lowering sugar-sweetened beverage consumption as well as reduced consumption of fast food. Physical education also needs to return to the regular school curriculum in grades K-12 with special attention being afforded to this at-risk population. The more we can prevent severe obesity from developing, the better chance we’ll have of insuring a healthy future for our keiki.”
The increasing number of children falling into the category of severely obese is troubling but the American Heart Association is working on a number of policies that would help fight this trend. Please keep an eye out for emails from us so you can let your lawmakers know this is important to you, after all our keiki are our future.