Increased Numbers of Extremely Obese Children is Public Health Concern

Findings from Kaiser Permanente researchers show that extreme obesity in children and adolescents is becoming prevalent, raising public health concerns about future risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other obesity related diseases that can occur in adulthood. The analysis also shows that children are becoming extremely obese at a younger age.

More than 45,000 extremely obese children were found among 710,949 children ages two to 19, enrolled in the Southern California integrated health plan in 2007 and 2008.

Corinna Koebnick, PhD, a research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Southern California's Department of Research and Evaluation in Pasadena, California says, "Children who are extremely obese may continue to be extremely obese as adults, and all the health problems associated with obesity are in these children's futures. Without major lifestyle changes, these kids face a 10 to 20 years shorter life span and will develop health problems in their twenties that we typically see in 40 - 60 year olds."

Children who are extremely obese are also likely to have siblings with higher body mass index. For the current study, extreme obesity was defined as body mass index (BMI) of more than 35 kilograms/meter.

Study co-author Amy Porter, MD, a Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park pediatrician who heads the Pediatric Weight Management Initiative for Kaiser Permanente's Southern California Region says, “There is rarely one extremely obese kid in a house where everyone else is extremely healthy. It's important that everyone in the family is invested in achieving a healthier lifestyle,"

Extreme obesity in children was more common among black teenage girls and Hispanic boys. The lowest incidence of extreme obesity was found among Asian-Pacific Islanders and non-Hispanic white children.

The researchers say that without action, extreme obesity found among children will lead to adults with major health risks that include fatty liver disease, heart disease, diabetes, and earlier death. Porter says the concern about extreme obesity in children is not about appearance - "it's all about health". The research group plans to continue their studies, saying the current finding is "only the beginning".

It's important to understand that extremely obese children are likely to become obese adults. In the United States, the prevalence of childhood obesity has soared in recent years. According to information from Colorado State University, "Recent reports have reached epidemic levels, with approximately 16 percent of children, 2 to 19 years old, classified as overweight."

Healthy eating, limiting time in front of the television or computer, and regular daily activity are important for curbing the increasing rate of extreme obesity among children who will only become unhealthy adults.

The study revealed that extreme obesity is becoming more common and found among 6.4 percent of children studied. The authors say childhood obesity is a family issue that requires targeted solutions to curb the growing problem and ensuing health risks for children who are not just obese - but extremely obese.