Childhood Obesity Linked to Early Adult Death

A study on childhood obesity was published in the February 11, 2010 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) showing that children who are obese are twice as likely to die by age 55 of illness or a self-inflicted injury, than their slimmer counterparts.

The study was also reported on in the February 10, 2010 edition of the New York Times, which started by noting that the study was very rare in that it followed thousands of children through their adult years. The study showed that children with pre-diabetes were at almost double the risk of dying before 55. Additionally, those with high blood pressure were also at some increased risk of an early death.

Helen C. Looker, M.B., B.S., an author of the study commented in the Times article, “This suggests that obesity in children, even prepubescent children, may have very serious long-term health effects through midlife, that there is something serious being set in motion by obesity at early ages. We all expect to get beyond 55 these days.”

An unrelated, but timely study published in the February 2010 issue of The American Journal of Public Health showed that it is not watching TV that contributes to childhood obesity, but rather watching the commercials. This study, reported on by Science Daily on February 10, 2010, shows that childhood obesity is directly related to children’s exposure to commercials that advertise unhealthy foods, rather than just the amount of TV a child watches.

This study showed that there is a difference between children who watch commercial TV as compared to those who watch non-commercial TV such as DVDs and educational television programming. Amazingly, the study showed that by age 5, most children have seen an average of more than 4,000 television commercials for food each year.

Dr. Fred Zimmerman, the study’s lead author and chairman of U.C.L.A.’s Department of Health Services, noted that commercials for sweetened cereals, junk food and fast food chains probably had an insidious influence over a child’s food preferences. He stated, “Commercial television pushes children to eat a large quantity of those foods they should consume least: sugary cereals, snacks, fast food and soda pop.”

In the Science Daily article, Dr. Zimmerman concluded, “Just as there are far better and more nutritious foods than those advertised on television, there are also far better and more interesting shows on television than those supported by advertising. Educational television has come a long way since today’s parents were children, and there are now many fantastic shows on commercial-free television and, of course, wonderful content available on DVD.”

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