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Childhood obesity: Preventing today’s children from becoming tomorrow’s patients
Childhood obesity has become a major medical issue in children and likely represents the most important preventable cause of future disease in adulthood. Obesity during childhood – even if body weight becomes normalized during adulthood – is an important prognostic indicator of future coronary artery diease. We have now reached a point where obese children are diagnosed with type II diabetes, a disease formerly found only in the elderly.
The articles by Lytle, Rai, and Mitsnefes provide timely views on the medical importance, causes, treatment, and prevention of childhood obesity, as well as the disease conditions associated with it. Manu Rai refers to the controversially discussed “metabolic syndrome”: in the late 1980s, Gerald M. Raeven, M.D. noticed certain diseases frequently coincide in patients with coronary artery disease which he termed “(metabolic) syndrome X”. These diseases included high blood pressure, abnormal blood lipid levels, high blood sugar, and – obesity! What he overlooked, though, was that obesity is rather the cause of all the aforementioned conditions, rather than an independent disease entity of a “metabolic syndrome”: indeed, successful treatment/prevention of obesity improves or even cures most of these disease conditions, in children as well as in adults.
While it is unlikely that a diet in fruits or vegetables on its own has “antihypertensive effects” as discussed by Mark Mitsnefes, regular physical exercise in combination with a diet rich in vegetables and fruit (and a reduced fat and carbohydrate content) has been shown to successfully treat obesity (and subsequently, hypertension) and also to maintain body weight, once it has been normalized.
The public health measures required to prevent childhood obesity as discussed by Leslie Lytle will be important for governments in countries around the word in order to prevent today’s children from becoming tomorrow’s patients.