Among adults with obesity, health issues including hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes are generally well-known. What may be less recognized by parents with obesity is that their children are at much greater risk for becoming obese and for carrying that obesity with them into adulthood.
There is no question that parents with obesity are more likely to have children with obesity. If one parent has obesity, the child is 50 percent more likely to have obesity; if both parents have obesity, that likelihood rises to 80 percent. And since there is a link between pregnant women with obesity and childhood obesity, some children are at risk literally before they are born. If a child becomes obese before kindergarten or in their pre-teen years, their likelihood of becoming adults with obesity increases 50 to 80 percent.
This is problem for several reasons. The adult obesity rate in the Unites States is now over 40 percent and, for at least the short term, likely to stay high or grow as a result of pandemic weight gain. As the rate of obesity rises, so, too, do the costs. There are dozens of conditions and diseases that are associated with obesity, each with their own direct and indirect costs. Physician visits, treatment, medication, specialized equipment, lost productivity, disability and absenteeism are just some of the effects of obesity-related conditions. These costs are borne not only by the individuals and their employers, but also the greater population through increased medical fees and insurance premiums.
If childhood obesity continues to increase at its current rate, more than 57 percent of today’s children will be adults with obesity by the time they turn 35, and about half of them will have been obese since childhood. Rather than slowing or reversing the current trend, this virtually assures that obesity levels will continue to rise over the next two decades. Unless changes are made in how obesity is treated in both children and adults, this cycle will perpetuate.
To ensure their children’s healthy future, parents and parents-to-be need to be made aware of the direct impact their weight can have on their children’s future. A program that includes weight loss and physical activity not only improves health, but it also sets a positive example for children to follow. Pre-conception weight loss can help address or even reverse fertility challenges including anovulation, to increase the likelihood of pregnancy. Studies reporting on the use of a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) have shown significant improvement in changes to reproductive hormones, leading to regular menses and greater likelihood of conception.
For other parents and adults, the team approach of a medically-prescribed weight loss programs using a VLCD offers much needed structure and support that may otherwise be forsaken during the course of a busy day. Reaching reasonable and achievable weight loss goals of five to 10 percent of body weight provides both health benefits and motivation. Incorporating other lifestyle changes such as physical activities further contributes to weight loss and cognitive well-being.
It is not unusual for parents to put their children first, but without knowing their child is at risk, they may be unaware of the potential harm they could be doing. They must be provided with the knowledge and resources necessary to improve their — and their children’s — physical and psychological well-being to ensure short and long-term health benefits.