Thursday, October 28, 2010

Georgia Children Facing Deadly Health Crisis

/PRNewswire/ -- Childhood obesity has become a threatening epidemic in Georgia. Weighing in just below Mississippi, Georgia has the second highest rate of childhood obesity in the United States. Nearly one in three children ages 10 to 17 in Georgia is considered to be overweight or obese (National Survey of Children's Health, 2007), and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta is continuing to witness a steady rise in obesity cases at all three of its hospitals.

Stephanie Walsh, M.D., Medical Director of Child Wellness at Children's, treats several children in a clinic where some of her young patients weigh more than 500 pounds. This problem is so severe that Children's has averaged 15 weight-loss surgeries each year since 2007.

Childhood obesity is a chronic illness that can cause serious long-term diseases and disabilities. Obese children can develop health issues that are typically seen only in adults, such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, joint problems and chest pains. Physicians have even begun to see cases of polycystic ovarian syndrome and fatty liver disease in obese children.

"Several children in Georgia are overweight or obese," Dr. Walsh said. "In addition to being obese, these children are at risk for problems like kidney and liver failure, risk of amputation and cardiovascular disease."

The causes of childhood obesity are complex. Poor nutrition and lack of physical activity influenced by factors including family dynamics, school systems and societal norms are all thought to contribute to the issue. Family influence plays a strikingly large role in childhood obesity; in fact, children with an obese parent are 50 percent more likely to be obese themselves.

Moreover there are huge discrepancies between how people think they are eating and what doctors are actually seeing on the scale. According to new statewide research, regardless of their children's BMI category, most parents seem content overall with their family's eating habits (The Marketing Workshop Inc 2010). Children echoed their parents' sentiments with most also seeming satisfied with their own eating habits.

"We have gotten used to meals on the go, fast food and eating in front of the television," Dr. Walsh said. "Thirty years ago, we used to live more active lifestyles. Now sadly, obese children are more likely obese adults, and this may be the first generation of kids who live shorter lives than their parents."

While childhood obesity can be a deadly problem, it is also a costly one. According to an Emory University study, if current trends continue, Georgia's health-care costs directly related to obesity will increase from its current annual cost of $2.5 billion to nearly $11 billion by 2018.

"The crisis of childhood obesity is the responsibility of every Georgia citizen," Dr. Walsh said. "As a society, we need to take ownership and act immediately on this issue for the sake of the future health of Georgia's population."

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