I grew up in the '70s and '80s, and I don't recall any of my friends having food allergies, although I do remember my friend Dan telling me that he was "lactose intolerant" which sounded incredibly dangerous and exotic at the time. I also don't recall many of them being overweight or obese. Our most common ailments seemed to be broken arms and scraped knees.
That's because obesity was not nearly as common as it is today. According to the CDC website, the prevalence of obesity for children aged 2-5 years is 12.4%; for those aged 6-11 years, it is 17.0%; and for those aged 12-19 years, the prevalence is 17.6%. Compared to survey data collected from 1976-1980, the prevalence rates for these age groups was between 5.0-6.5%.
These children and adolescents not only face current health issues. They are at risk for chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes--and are more likely to become obese as adults. Since chronic conditions are the main driver of healthcare spending in the US--more than half of us have at least one chronic disease, and 75% of our healthcare dollars are spent treating chronic diseases (many of which are preventable and manageable), getting childhood obesity under control is a must-win for our health and our healthcare system.
Weight is a personal topic for many, and sometimes I fear "obesity coverage fatigue" with so many studies and stories, often conflicting, that talk about about the impact of obesity on our health. It takes real motivation on the part of the overweight or obese individual to work toward a healthy weight, especially when the individual is a child. (That's why GSK teamed up with the Washington Redskins last month to donate a "Youth Fitness Zone" to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, DC. The program encourages nutrition, fitness and wellness to combat obesity in children ages 8-14.)
But now there might be another reason to ensure that each child maintains a healthy weight. A new study of 4,000 children aged 2-19, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found a significant association of overweight and obesity with allergic reactions to eggs, milk, peanuts, and other common allergens.
Of course, their could be many reasons for these associations, but I think it certainly warrants investigation. Since food allergies put restrictions on the diets of the children involved, it makes the task of obtaining--and maintaining--a healthy weight that much more difficult. But what is clear is that childhood obesity is an issue that must be addressed now if we are to improve our national health in the future.