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New study reveals frightening statistics regarding childhood obesity

Providing the greater Monmouth County community with strategies to live without pain is only part of my mission. Educating families so that children are given the best opportunity for health and quality of life is another one of my primary drives.

A recent study of 5,000 individuals tracked for 60 years revealed some very sobering findings. Researchers found that, if an individual is overweight at the age of 20, there is a very good chance that he or she will struggle with weight their entire life. More importantly, in any given year, those with excess weight were twice as likely to die as those without excess weight issues.

“As the obesity epidemic is still progressing rapidly, especially among children and adolescents, it is important to find out if obesity in early adulthood has lifelong mortality effects,” said the study’s leader, Esther Zimmermann, a researcher at the Institute of Preventive Medicine, Copenhagen University Hospital and the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen.*

This study is significant. The deleterious effects of excessive weight plagues our society.

We are designed to be thin. Historically, our bodies have functioned to store extra fat, which enabled us to survive during times of limited food—particularly during the winter months when food was typically harder to come by. Additionally, our brains are designed to crave food high in fat, salt, and sugar in order to ensure that enough nutrients are being ingested for survival.

Ironically, survival is still the issue, but in the opposite context. The study illustrates that, when a child is obese to the age of 20, they will die an average eight years earlier than their thinner peers. Premature causes of death related to excess weight include (but are not limited to) Type II Diabetes, Heart Disease, Stroke, and Cancer. If an individual is obese, they are at a much higher risk of developing one of these conditions and dying from it compared with their peers that are not obese.

Think about walking up a hill. This can be hard enough. Now imagine putting a 25 pound bag of sand over your shoulders and walk up the same hill. What happens? It’s a lot harder, right? Now think about that extra 25 pounds you carry on you with every step you take. Over time this excess weight will wear you down and lead to disease and early death. It’s simple, isn’t it?

Consider the extra energy it takes your body to move that additional weight around. Over time, your engine (your organs and muscles) will become fatigued. Not only will you probably develop pain syndromes in your joints (arthritis) caused by added stress to these joints, but your engine will run out of gas sooner than your peers.

In the United States, the last one hundred years have brought significant improvements to quality of life. A century ago, U.S. citizens were susceptible to starvation influenced by local events, including drought and disease. Commercialization of agriculture has led to our ability to rely less and less on locally produced food. Very few areas in our country now experience famine.  Instead, access to inexpensive and incredibly fattening food is the norm.

Because evolution is still the dictator of our metabolism, current societal habits (as well as the emotional drive toward ever-available fattening food) have created a perfect storm of obesity in our country.

The Red Bank Middle School and Red Bank Catholic High School are within blocks of my office. I see children walking by every day that carry an unhealthy amount of weight. Many of them pass by snacking on easily accessible foods that are loaded with fat and sugar. These children are not to blame. We have a responsibility as parents, professionals, and leaders in our community to educate these children before poor habits begin.

At Monmouth Spine and Rehabilitation Center, we take the time to educate our patients on a variety of wellness topics, including nutrition. We work very closely with local nutritional professionals to ensure that the complete wellness of our patients is being addressed. If you live in Monmouth County and would like to sit down and speak to one our nutritional consultants to discuss the needs of you or your children, please contact the office immediately.

* As presented at the 11th International Congress on Obesity in Stockholm, July 11-15, 2010