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Severe childhood obesity: an under-recognised and growing health problem


Childhood obesity is a serious and urgent public health problem. In the last 10 years, there has been a concerted effort in the USA and globally to develop and implement educational, medical and public health interventions designed to attenuate its growth. The success of these efforts was probably responsible for the plateau in the prevalence rate of childhood obesity noted in the last two years. While the attenuation of the overall prevalence of childhood obesity is promising, data from the same cohort reveal a concerning upward trend in the number of children with severe obesity. The consequences of severe childhood obesity can be devastating. When compared to their moderately obese peers, children with severe obesity are at greater risk for adult obesity, early atherosclerosis, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease and premature death. The determinants for severe obesity include the same lifestyle, environmental, familial and societal risk factors reported for overweight or obesity. While all these risk factors must be screened for, genetic influences are distinct considerations that may have greater bearing especially with early-onset obesity. Treatments for severe childhood obesity include lifestyle intervention, specialised low-calorie diets and bariatric surgery. Outcomes of these treatments vary, with bariatric surgery clearly the most successful of the three for both short-term and long-term weight loss. Severe obesity in children and adolescents remains a challenging health condition. The enormous medical, emotional and financial burden these children and their families endure signals an urgent need to further investigate and standardise treatment modalities and improve outcomes.


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