“This study paints a comprehensive picture of childhood obesity, and we were surprised to see just how many conditions were associated with childhood obesity,” said lead author Dr. Neal Halfon, a professor of pediatrics, public health and public policy at UCLA, where he directs the Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities. “The findings should serve as a wake-up call to physicians, parents and teachers, who should be better informed of the risk for other health conditions associated with childhood obesity so that they can target interventions that can result in better health outcomes.”
Of the children in the study, 15 percent were considered overweight (a body mass index between the 85th and 95th percentiles), and 16 percent were obese (a BMI in the 95th percentile or higher).
The study, which is currently available online, will be published in the January–February print issue of the journal Academic Pediatrics.
The UCLA researchers speculate that the ongoing shift in chronic childhood conditions is likely related to decades of underappreciated changes in the social and physical environments in which children live, learn and play. They propose that obesity-prevention efforts should target these social and environmental influences and that kids should be screened and managed for the co-morbid conditions.
The researchers add that while the strength of the current study lies in its large population base, future studies need to examine better longitudinal data to tease out causal relationships that cannot be inferred from a cross-sectional study.
“Obesity might be causing the co-morbidity, or perhaps the co-morbidity is causing obesity — or both might be caused by some other unmeasured third factor,” Halfon said. “For example, exposure to toxic stress might change the neuroregulatory processes that affect impulse control seen in ADHD, as well as leptin sensitivity, which can contribute to weight gain. An understanding of the association of obesity with other co-morbidities may provide important information about causal pathways to obesity and more effective ways to prevent it.”
Halfon’s co-authors on the study included Kandyce Larson and Dr. Wendy Slusser, both of UCLA.
The study was supported by funding from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resource Services Administration.
The authors have no financial ties to disclose.
For more information on the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, please visit www.healthychild.ucla.edu.