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Imagine you are at the pediatrician’s office with your 11-year-old son for his annual check-up when she informs you that your son has “X” disease. This chronic disease will cause him to be short of breath during exercise and tire easier than his friends. Over time, it will cause physical changes in his appearance. She goes on to tell you that as this disease progresses, he will begin to have problems with his glucose levels and blood pressure and, if left untreated, will cause damage to his kidneys and heart. Many children and teens with “X” disease suffer with low self-esteem and are at risk of depression.

Fortunately, “X” disease is treatable, but she says it won’t be easy, as his treatment will affect the entire family’s daily routine, and might require lifestyle adjustments. What if “X” disease was cancer? What if “X” disease was obesity? Although the above scenarios might seem a bit extreme, how different should your response to a diagnosis of a chronic disease be?

Obesity is a disease that has quickly become a top health concern for children in America. Today, nearly two out of every 10 children are considered obese, with certain ethnic groups nearing three out of 10. The long-term complications of obesity have been well described in adults, but complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease are becoming common in obese children.

There currently are very few FDA approved medications to treat young children with weight-related complications such as Type 2 Diabetes and high cholesterol since it often takes years to determine a medication’s safety profile on young developing bodies. The best treatment is early identification of those children at risk for obesity. Often the hardest part for pediatricians is making parents aware of the problem in their child.

Some physicians find it difficult to address concerns in a child when the parents themselves are obese, or they become frustrated because they see no changes after focusing on the issue. Some parents are defensive about the topic when it is brought up by the pediatrician, and some physicians and/or parents don’t see it as a problem. The truth is that most parents when presented with the proper information, are appropriately concerned about the health of their child. What loving parent wouldn’t be? The hard part is figuring out how to help your child, and how to do it in a way that will work for your child and your family.

The first step is learning whether your child is obese or if your child is at risk of becoming obese. Statistics show that 40 percent of children with one overweight parent and 80 percent of children with two overweight parents will be overweight. Family history plays a significant role in how your child’s body is shaped. If your child is at genetic risk or you have concerns that your child is overweight, schedule a visit with your child’s pediatrician for a check-up so that he/she can calculate your child’s Body Mass Index (BMI).

BMI is the ratio of a person’s body weight to height, but this number has certain limitations. The Centers for Disease Control has a good explanation of BMI and how you can calculate your and your child’s number. It can be found at http://www.cdc.gov. By typing “BMI” in the search engine, you can easily navigate to the correct page. If your child is already in the overweight category, ask your child’s doctor about the next step.

Because being overweight involves both physical and emotional aspects, most experts agree an approach that addresses both concerns is most successful. This is much more important in children, as self-esteem is developed early in life and a child’s self-worth is crucial to being a happy, well-adjusted adult. When dealing with young children, the focus is often on the parents’ lifestyle and habits, and addressing those things that might be a problem.

For example, does she eat when she is bored? Does he have access to “outside” time where he can run around and be a kid (and burn off some calories)? Do pressures at work make it difficult for parents to cook meals at home instead of eating out? The key is often educating parents on how simple changes can make a huge difference without sacrificing too much of a family’s lifestyle. If done correctly, they often result in families spending more time together and living a healthier life, which is less stressful for everyone.

If you are interested in learning more about helping your child, contact your child’s pediatrician. He/she can direct you to resources that will help you and your child live a happier healthier life.

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