Free Creative Commons Colorful Children on Merry Go Round at The Park
Creative Commons License photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

Now that we have just finished celebrating Mother’s Day, we would like to shift our spotlight to the primary concern of a lot of moms: the health hazards of children. Here is the first alert on our list of online alerts to health hazards of children.

  1. Childhood obesity in the U.S. is a health epidemic and has a greater negative impact on longevity in comparison to that of smoking. This eye-opener was revealed by a study in the New England Journal of Medicine which examined the combined effects of obesity and smoking on longevity. By 2020, the study predicts the following outcomes:

  • smoking will decrease by 21 percent, but 45 percent of the population will be obese
  • a typical 18-year-old will gain 0.31 years due to the drop in smoking rates
  • but the increase in obesity rates during the same period (10 years) will reduce life expectancy by 1.02 years,
  • so the combined effect of both obesity rates and smoking rates is that “we’ll lose 0.71 years of our life span”
  • the expected increase in quality-adjusted life expectancy — a measure that takes into account levels of disability and other quality-of-life factors — will be reduced by 1.32 years
  • life expectancy would increase by 3.76 years, or 5.16 quality-adjusted years,  if and only if all U.S. adults are nonsmokers having normal weight

Thus, the obesity epidemic in the U.S. may negate any gains in life span that are due to decreased smoking rates. Susan T. Stewart, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and researcher at the National Bureau of Economic Research, in Cambridge, Massachusetts says, “Life expectancy is not going to decline. But it could have risen by that much more if it weren’t for the increases in obesity.”

S. Jay Olshansky, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, points out that “childhood obesity has been rising dramatically, so the trends in the future are going to change by how long people have been obese.”  Olshansky, who did not participate in this study, says,  “younger generations are going to carry the obesity with them much longer,” leading to additional or more serious weight-related health risks.

The panacea for obesity requires  lifestyle changes as well as a public health campaign against sedentary lifestyles, widespread availability of high-calorie food in large portions, reduced time for at-home food preparation and other contributing factors.

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