The reason that the trend toward obesity is so alarming to physicians is that excess weight can cause very damaging conditions — both physically and emotionally. And while the emphasis is on correcting and/or mitigating any permanent changes to a child's physical health, anyone who's ever been teased about their physical appearance can attest to the fact that the emotional scars can be just as painful as any physical hurt.
Aches, pains, and disease
Pediatricians see many serious health issues in obese children that used to be seen only in adults. Obese children have a higher risk of developing the following conditions:
Type 2 diabetes
High blood pressure
Rashes, fungal infections, and other skin conditions
Early puberty in girls
Delayed puberty in boys
Orthopedic strains and fractures
Heart disease (in early adulthood)
No one should have to worry about these conditions until adulthood, but they can start to develop as early as childhood. In fact, doctors are seeing more and more instances of type 2 diabetes and elevated cholesterol in children as more and more children become obese.
As for the worst of the worst, some of the most serious long-term side effects of type 2 diabetes include:
Increased risk for heart disease and stroke
Some of the long-term complications of elevated cholesterol are an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Combine a couple of these conditions, and a person can end up with very serious health issues. An adolescent who has both diabetes and high cholesterol, for example, has a much higher risk of developing heart disease than a teen who has one or the other. Unfortunately, because obesity predisposes people to developing these diseases, it's more common for an obese person to have more than one obesity-related disease.
Aching for acceptance: Emotional issues
As though the physical risks of obesity aren't enough, their peers put obese children through the emotional wringer each and every day. Overweight kids are easy targets for bullies, and unfortunately, even though we've done away with all kinds of overt discrimination in this country, a fat prejudice still exists and still is accepted among certain factions of the population.
Consider this: Obese adults face discrimination and outright nastiness from total strangers. (If you're severely overweight or obese, you can probably recall a time or two when someone had the nerve to judge you on nothing more than your physical appearance.) What are these strangers teaching their children, who are in school with your child? It's a hard, cruel world out there, but it's even worse for an obese child faced with taunts and name-calling on a daily basis.
Self-esteem and isolation
Obese children are more likely than other kids to feel like they're on the outside of their peer social settings and, as a result, suffer from low self-esteem. Few children can tolerate being different from the other kids in their classes. Obese children look different, move differently, and have physical needs that other children don't (such as needing a larger desk, for example, or more time to complete a task in physical education class). Most kids want nothing more than to be accepted by other kids their own age. A child may feel like he stands out either because he's being made to feel that way by others or because he perceives himself as an alien being. Either way, the result is the same: The child doesn't succeed in social settings.
Problems during puberty
Obese girls tend to reach puberty earlier than other girls their age, which only adds to the problem of feeling like an outcast. When a 9-year-old faces weight issues and a burgeoning bosom and getting her period, she's dealing with some very adult issues at a very young age. Her friends are bound to look at her differently, as are adults. No one knows quite how to speak to a child who looks like a young woman.
Obese boys tend to go through puberty at a later age than boys who are of normal weight. While the other guys are starting to sprout upward and show signs of entering adulthood, obese boys are left wondering why their bodies are betraying them. Why aren't their voices getting deeper? Why aren't they shaving yet? A boy in this situation may wonder, "Isn't it bad enough being overweight without also being stuck in childhood?"
The teen scene
Obese children with low self-esteem tend to be stuck on the sidelines (at best) while their peers start going to dances and on group dates. It's not as though obese children don't take an interest in the opposite sex; they simply have fewer opportunities to test the waters, so to speak, and this setback further affects the way they view themselves as well as the way they're viewed by their peers.