The Weighty Issues of Childhood Obesity

by Melissa Brunner

A couple recent news items put the issues surrounding childhood obesity back in the headlines. One has to do with an obese child put in foster care. The other is regarding new cholesterol testing recommendations.

In Ohio, authorities placed a 200 pound third grader in foster care. Case workers determined the 8-year old's mother wasn't doing enough to control his weight, thereby protecting him from future medical problems. Even before this case, the question was debated whether obesity was grounds to declare abuse and neglect. After all, the logic was, if a child not eating enough put their life at risk, isn't the same true of eating too much? But opponents cite a slippery slope - how overweight is too much? How much would be subjective? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the debate.

The topic of doing cholesterol testing on all kids is also the focus of Thursday's 10pm To Your Health report. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute issued new guidelines last month which recommend all children ages 9 to 11 have a cholesterol screening. The recommendation was based on evidence that the changes leading to coronary artery disease begin in childhood. Until now, screening was done in those children who had documented risk factors, such as obesity or strong family history. However, doctors say 30 to 60 percent of children with lipid disorders are missed by doing only the targeted screening. And, while increased childhood obesity rates are part of what lead to the recommendation, they point out that not all young people with high cholesterol are overweight.

So what's the harm? Detractors say universal screening won't help anything and will only serve to drive up health care costs. They say it will lead to more children being put on cholesterol-lowering medications, which aren't shown to be effective in prevening later heart disease and may put kids at risk. Supporters say they don't believe this will result in more kids taking the drugs. Rather, they say it will allow them to advocate for lifestyle changes and more watchful monitoring. Okay, answer the detractors - then do we really need a screening to be telling people to eat fruits and veggies and exercise more?

It's an interesting situation, complicated by the question of whether or not all insurance companies will cover the cost. (One article I read put the cost at $50-$80.) What do you think? Is it worth it?




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