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A Five-Alarm Disaster

Just when we thought no more fuel could be added to the already roaring childhood overweight and obesity fire, two research reports published in the December 6 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine have stepped up the call to action to a new level of urgency.

While we know that being overweight or having a high body mass index (BMI) is unhealthy for kids, the two studies offer new proof that these conditions can seriously impact the health of children as they age. In the first study, researchers looked at the association between BMI in Danish schoolchildren (7–13 years old) and coronary heart disease (CHD) in adulthood (25 years of age or older). The study looked at data from the 10,235 male and 4,318 female subjects who were diagnosed with CHD or died of it as adults. The risk of any CHD event, fatal or nonfatal, among adults was positively associated with BMI at 7–13 years of age for boys and 10–13 years of age for girls. The more weight a child gained, the more his or her risk of CHD increased.

In another study from the same issue, San Francisco researchers examined whether being overweight as an adolescent impacts future CHD. They estimated the prevalence of obese 35-year-olds in 2020 on the basis of adolescent overweight in 2000 and historical trends for overweight adolescents becoming obese adults. The researchers then used the CHD Policy Model, a computer simulation of U.S. residents who are 35 or older, to project the annual excess incidence and prevalence of CHD, the total number of excess CHD events, and excess deaths from both CHD and other causes attributable to obesity from 2020 to 2035.

What did the investigators find? Adolescent overweight is projected to increase the prevalence of obese 35-year-olds in 2020 to a range of 30%–37% in men and 34%–44% in women. As a consequence, increases are expected in the incidence of CHD and in the total number of CHD events and deaths occurring in young adulthood. The increases are projected to continue as the population reaches middle age. By 2035, it is estimated that the prevalence of CHD will have increased by 5%–16%, with more than 100,000 excess cases of CHD attributable to the increased obesity. Could aggressive treatment with currently available therapies aimed at reversing modifiable obesity-related risk factors help? Researchers said such treatment would reduce, but not eliminate, the projected rise in the number of CHD events.

The upshot is that while many overweight and obese kids are already experiencing serious health problems and a poor quality of life, it’s going to get much, much worse for them (and for our society in general) as they age. As we start 2008, most fitness professionals are aware of the issues and challenges of this epidemic, and many are looking for ways to turn the statistics around. But what are the solutions?

Several are proposed in the article “Kids in Motion Stay in Motion” (page 38) by Alexandra Williams, MA. A good start is to follow in the footsteps of some of our colleagues, both corporate and individual, who are coming up with unique ways to improve the exercise and lifestyle patterns of our youth. Read this piece and be energized by the programs that passionate and imaginative fitness professionals just like you have already managed to put into place. Their work and contributions are absolutely stunning. In addition, many IDEA members have already stepped forward to volunteer their time and expertise to further our work with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a partnership between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation. These members are helping to revive the failing physical education systems in schools across the country.

This is a five-alarm emergency that requires all hands on deck. Whether you have just one bucket of water to throw on the blaze or a giant hose to turn on it, it’s our collective responsibility to quell this monstrous disaster killing our children before they’ve even had a chance to plan a future. 

In good health,
Kathie and Peter Davis


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