'Children should be weighed twice a year'
Published 21/03/2011 | 05:00
Children who are overweight or obese are at risk of becoming "absolutely enormous" as adults, a leading expert has warned.
A study of 300 very obese patients, who are more than 26 stone, found many were overweight when they were less than 10 years old.
The study, led by Prof Donal O'Shea of St Vincent's and St Colmcille's Hospitals in Dublin, found the severely obese adults were more likely to be single, separated, divorced or unemployed.
Prof O'Shea, the country's leading expert on obesity, said one in five children aged five to 12 years of age is overweight or obese.
"The health implications of being obese as a child are similar to that of smoking. Parents would not give their children cigarettes.
"Childhood obesity sows the seeds for a child to become absolutely enormous as an adult. In some way you are protected from being severely obese if you maintain a healthy weight in childhood."
He stressed that the guardians and parents of children have a responsibility to ensure their child is eating healthily.
"All children should be weighed twice a year," he says.
The sophisticated marketing of high-calorie foods through celebrities, music and sport was partly to blame. Although some confectionery makers agreed to end jumbo-sized chocolate bars, they were replaced with duo versions or a bar and a half, he points out.
One quarter of the population is now obese. Obesity has doubled in the last decade but the numbers who are severely obese have risen 10-fold, he adds. People who have a body mass index of more than 50 are increasing at an "alarming rate".
People who are obese are at increased risk of diabetes, high cholesterol and cancer. But some may have cells which protect them.
Another aspect that emerged from the study, which was partly funded by the Diabetes Federation of Ireland, showed some obese people have 'healthier' fat cells which are able to grow and expand in a way which protects them from diabetes.
"These fat cells act as effective, protective sponges, soaking up excess calories and storing it in a safe environment of the fat tissue."
The fat cells in unhealthy obese individuals are not as effective at storing excess calories and therefore fat overflows into the liver, muscles and pancreas. This leads to fatty liver, high cholesterol and a very high risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Prof O'Shea added: "Being overweight is not normal and should not be considered acceptable. But a small percentage of people who are extremely obese do not suffer the normal health problems associated with obesity."
Prof O'Shea said his clinics currently have a waiting list of 900 people to be seen for assessment and 90 are on list for surgery.
In a separate study, Kildare GP Dr Brendan O'Shea and other doctors from the Department of Primary Care in Trinity College pointed out that studies show nutritional guidelines are often needed when patients present with illness.
They sent a postal questionnaire to 247 GPs in Dublin and Wicklow. It examined current practice regarding dietary counselling, sources of nutrition guidelines, access to dietetic services, and attitudes towards management of obesity in the general practice setting.
A majority (86pc) indicated they provide dietary advice to patients on a daily basis. Diabetics, obese patients and overweight children were identified as the three main priorities for targeting dietary advice.
Health & Living