Obesity & metabolic syndrome in kids is a growing problem

Lynnette Hoffman

writer

Lynnette Hoffman

Managing Editor

Lynnette Hoffman

It’s no anomaly for Associate Professor Gary Leong to see patients as young as 10 who weigh 100 kilograms.

The paediatric endocrinologist routinely sees adolescents and teenagers in his clinic who are experiencing obesity-related complications such as sleep apnoea, early heart disease, hypertension and pre-diabetes.

Metabolic syndrome is on the rise in young people, but even seasoned doctors can miss at-risk kids.

Although he acknowledges it can be a challenge to fit into a consultation, Associate Professor Leong says it’s important to take the opportunity when parents bring their children in for tangentially-related issues.

“So if a kid comes in with asthma, do their height, weight and calculate the BMI,” he says.

“GPs are just as bad as anyone at recognising an overweight child, unless they’re grossly overweight, You just basically have to measure them—height, weight and BMI, and waist circumference.”

“Most GPs have Medical Director and Genie now, where they have growth charts, so you can actually chart that. So I think that’s the first thing: measure, record, and then act on that according to if they’re overweight. “

More often than not one or both parents are also overweight, so addressing the reasons the parents struggle to stay a healthy weight is the best way to approach the problem as the child is a product of the day to day decisions the parents make around their food and being active as a family which all affect the stress and mental health of the whole family.

Language can be crucial, so he recommends avoiding the word obese, and using ‘overweight’ or ‘above the healthy weight range,’ instead.
“If the parent says ‘oh no, we weren’t aware, I thought he or she would just outgrow his big tummy ’ then ask the next question: have you any concerns about your child’s mental or physical health?”

Associate Professor Leong says the problem is often trans-generational, with obesity, poor lifestyle and related chronic diseases impacting multiple generations of a family.

He recommends referring parents to resources where they can learn about healthy meals, portion sizes, physical activity and other factors that are impacting the whole family’s health—and getting a dietitian involved if possible, or refer to a community program like Go 4 Fun.

If there’s a strong family history of diabetes or heart disease or the are parents overweight themselves, then ask them if they would need some advice.

“Parents need to look after themselves,” Associate Professor Leong says. “If they want children to be healthy, they have to be role models for their kids and that’s very hard for some parents because they haven’t been taught how to do that and they don’t know.”

Associate Professor Gary Leong will be presenting at Healthed’s next free webcast, on Tuesday, 21 Feb. Register to hear more. You can also find more information and resources about preventing childhood obesity at his website here

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Lynnette Hoffman

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Lynnette Hoffman

Managing Editor

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