December 21, 2012

Weighing In on a Way Out

My grandson weighs far more than he should, but whines and gets irritable if he isn’t permitted to eat whatever he likes. He is drinking soda and eating doughnuts. My son just shrugs and says that he will grow out of it, and that it’s only puppy fat.

It’s a sad fact that the weight of the human population is heavier than it has ever been in history. This isn’t only because there are more people, but because there’s an epidemic of obesity, with approximately 1.6 billion people globally over the age of 14 years who are overweight, and more than 400 million obese. Overweight are those with a body mass index of 25-29.9, and obese 30 and above. This index relates to the ratio of weight to height. Some have postulated a better measure might be the abdominal-girth-to-hip-girth ratio. Regardless, when we have difficulty bending down, have increased acid reflux, or pant heavily when climbing stairs, our excess weight is playing a heavy role in our symptoms. A weight 20 percent above normal most commonly indicates obesity. 

Our problems with obesity are likely to increase, because it’s estimated that in the United States alone at least 20 million children under the age of 5 are overweight. Obese children after the age of 5 and up to adolescence will most probably become obese as adults. A child who is obese between the ages of 10 to 13 has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult. Today 16 to 33 percent of U.S. children and adolescents are obese. 

2012 1536 page16Obesity is the second-greatest threat to health in the U.S., after tobacco smoking. Trends have shown an escalation that can be demonstrated nearly every year for the past 50 years.

If we do nothing, there will be an exponential rise, so that a staggering 90 percent of Americans will be overweight, and 60 percent obese by the year 2030 (Obesity 16, no. 10 [2008]: 2323-2330). Such increases will soon outstrip the dangers of smoking. The current generation of children may well lose the gains in life expectancy experienced by their parents and grandparents.
Obesity increases the risks of death from cancer—more in women than in men, but both sexes show increased risks. While all types of cancer are increased in those who are obese, breast cancer and endometrial cancer in particular affect obese women disproportionately to women of normal weight. A linear positive correlation between hours of TV watched and obesity also has been observed.

Heart disease and hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, acid reflux, and cancer all increase with obesity.
If your grandson is obese, there are many factors that might be operative. It sounds as though he has poor eating habits, as well as overeating. He probably lacks exercise and may have a family history of obesity. Hormonal factors, such as Cushing’s syndrome, could be operative but are extremely rare.

Certain children with low self-esteem, depression, or emotional disorders eat to relieve their stress, but obesity itself can induce these emotional conditions.

Parents who shrug off their responsibility to guard their children’s health do them a dreadful disservice. Education is important, but families tend to grow obese together; children learn to eat like their parents do, become indolent like their parents, and enjoy the same fattening foods that their parents do. 

Perhaps you should ask for a family conference on this problem, though great sensitivity is required. Above all, you do not want to harm a relationship. Consultation with a dietitian or nutritionist might also pay large dividends. Above all, avoid authoritarian and critical attitudes, as these in turn create defensive attitudes and push-back from others.

The role of prayer is something that we need to emphasize. A relationship with Jesus will lead to a greater desire to praise Him in every aspect of our lives, including the stewardship of the gift of life we have to enjoy. 

Send your questions to Ask the Doctors, Adventist Review, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904. Or e-mail them to [email protected]. While this column is provided as a service to our readers, Drs. Landless and Handysides unfortunately cannot enter into personal and private communication with our readers. We recommend you consult with your personal physician on all matters of your health. Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist, is the director of the Health Ministries department of the General Conference. Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is an associate director of the Health Ministries department of the General Conference. This article was published December 27, 2012.