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Sixth grade obesity

Severe obesity becoming more common in sixth graders — and many parents don’t recognize it.

Nearly seven percent of sixth-graders across the U.S. are severely obese, according to a new study appearing online in the Journal of Adolescent Health, which tested 6,365 middle-school children during health screenings at 42 middle schools in across the country.

The increasing rate of severe obesity in children requires particular attention “because it is associated with high rates of risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease as children get older,” says Marsha Marcus, PhD, lead study author and head of the Eating Disorders Program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Doctors define severe obesity differently in children than they do in adults. In children, the measurement used is a percentile of body mass index (BMI) for age and sex. For this study, researchers considered children with a BMI in the 99th percentile to be severely obese — and 6.9 percent of students fell into this category.

“The findings of this study are alarming because it shows there are even more children than we realized at medical risk due to excess weight,” says Marlene Schwartz, PhD, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

“In both situations, I have been surprised that some children who are severely obese according to their BMIs do not always look heavy. As a culture, we have become used to seeing heavier children so the visual norm has shifted. Because of this, many children are at risk of not receiving help since their parents do not see them as obese,” adds Schwartz, who has worked with children in both clinical and research settings.

While no simple answer exists, “Parents need to talk to their children’s doctors and seek treatment for children with severe obesity,” Marcus says.

Insulin sensitivity and high blood sugar during pregnancy

Children of mothers whose blood glucose level was high during pregnancy are more likely to have low insulin sensitivity — a risk factor for type-two diabetes — even after taking into consideration the children’s body weight, a new study shows. The results were presented recently at the Endocrine Society’s 92nd Annual Meeting.

“We know that children born to women with type-two diabetes or gestational diabetes, or who have high blood sugar during pregnancy, are at risk of becoming diabetic themselves,” says study co-author Paula Chandler-Laney, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “This study suggests that the children’s increased risk appears to be due, at least in part, to their prenatal exposure to relatively high maternal blood glucose.”

Chandler-Laney and her colleagues studied children ages 5–10 and measured the children’s sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that regulates sugar in the blood. They also evaluated the pregnancy medical records of the children’s mothers to determine maternal blood-sugar concentration during the oral glucose-tolerance test.

The researchers found that the higher the mother’s blood sugar levels during pregnancy, the lower her child’s insulin sensitivity. Low insulin sensitivity is a major risk factor for type-two diabetes.

Obesity lowers insulin sensitivity, but the children’s reduced insulin sensitivity was independent of their amount of body fat, the authors reported.

None of the children had high blood sugar, but puberty would further lower their insulin sensitivity, she notes.

“High maternal blood glucose during pregnancy may have lasting effects on children’s insulin sensitivity and secretion, potentially raising the risk for type-two diabetes,” Chandler-Laney says. “Obstetrici­ans, pediatricians and pregnant women should all be aware of the potential far-reaching consequences that elevated blood sugar during pregnancy can have on children’s health.”

Unforeseen playground dangers

I’m betting most of us have done it: gone down a playground slide with our child on our lap. What’s the harm, right?

But according to a new study published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, 13.8 percent of tibia (shin) fractures in U.S. kids were the result of the child going down a slide on an adult’s lap. The injury occurs when the child’s leg gets stuck in one place while the adult and child continue to move down the slide.

Cavities and body fat

Preschool children with tooth decay may be more likely to be overweight or obese than the general population and, regardless of weight, are more likely to consume too many calories, a new study indicates.

“Poor eating habits may play a role in both tooth decay and obesity in preschoole­rs,” the study’s lead author, Kathleen Bethin, MD, PhD, says.

“Dental decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood, and obesity in youth is a growing problem. To prevent these problems, the dentist’s office may be an important place to educate families about nutrition,” says Bethin, a pediatrician at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Buffalo in New York.

With funding from the New York State Department of Health, the doctors at the Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo and University of Buffalo studied the relationship between poor dental health and excess weight in 65 children ages 2 to 5 years. All children needed dental work due to decay and had their dental procedure and blood work performed while they were under anesthesia.

Each child’s height and weight were measured before the procedure to calculate the BMI. Also, the child’s parent or guardian completed a questionnaire about the child’s recent average daily food consumption.

Almost 28 percent of the children were overweight or obese, compared with an estimated 21.2 percent in the general U.S. population. Those children, who’s BMI was high for their age (at the 85th percentile or above), already had much higher total cholesterol levels than their healthy-weight counterparts, Bethin reports.

The questionnaire showed that both the normal-weight and overweight children consumed more calories per day than recommended for their age (1,440 and 1,570 calories respectively). Seventy-one percent of the children consumed more than 1,200 calories per day, although the daily recommended caloric intake ranges from 1,000 to 1,400 calories depending on age and gender of the child.

Kathy Sena is a freelance journalist specializing in health and parenting issues and is the mother of a 14-year-old son. Visit her blog at www.parenttalktoday.com.

Updated 4:29 pm, July 9, 2018
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