Childhood obesity and its impact on thyroid in the later years

Author : Dr. Manjunath Malige, Chief Endocrinologist, Aster RV Hospital

India

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New Delhi, February 25, 2021 :
Dr. Manjunath Malige, Aster RV Hospital

Childhood obesity is a growing health concern these days and its prevalence is increasing all over the world. According to experts, children who are overweight or obese are at more risk of developing heath issues in the future as compared to children having normal weight.

What Are The Causes Of Childhood Obesity?

Genetics and lifestyle are the two main causes of childhood obesity. If one or both of the parents are overweight or obese, their kids are more likely to be obese. Lifestyle factors such as overeating, less physical activity, too much of time spent in front of television, mobiles or laptops and consumption of unhealthy foods such as fries, cakes, aerated drinks or other oily and sugary foods can significantly lead to obesity.

Obesity and Thyroid Dysfunction

Obesity can lead to thyroid dysfunction. Some studies have suggested that childhood obesity can affect thyroid function and structure. Hence as the child grows older, there is more amount of stress on the thyroid gland thus leading to decreased production of thyroid hormones like T4 and TSH. This in turn leads to difficulty in losing weight because the rate of metabolism is lowered. It has been observed that thyroid function can come back to normal if there is significant weight loss as it can lead to normalization of the TSH production.  Interleukins and inflammatory cytokines play an important role in thyroid autoimmunity. In obese or overweight children, there is enhanced secretion of cytokines and interleukins, thus leading to an under-functional thyroid.

How can thyroid issues be diagnosed?

Thyroid imbalances can be diagnosed by:

  • Medical history and physical examination- The doctor takes a complete history of the patient and their family. A thorough physical examination is done to understand whether the patient is having any other health issues.

  • Blood check-up- A complete blood work-up is done to evaluate the hormone levels and to identify any other conditions.

Apart from thyroid imbalances, childhood obesity is linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, fatigue, joint problems, muscle cramps, breathing issues such as shortness of breath, asthma or sleep apnea, liver disorders and psychological conditions such as anxiety or depression

How Can Childhood Obesity Be Prevented?

  • Avoid over-feeding the child.

  • Portion control is important.

  • Incorporate healthy snacks as between-the-meals options. This will prevent them from reaching out to a bowl of chips or fries.

  • Keep a check on hydration levels. Fluids in any form- water, fresh juices, and fruit infused water are some of the options. Avoid tea, coffee and aerated drinks.

  • Get creative and incorporate healthy foods such as whole wheat bread, nuts, fruit salads and other items in meals.

  • A minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity is important as it benefits their physical as well as mental health.

  • Limit screen time and encourage them to play games such as running, cycling, swimming, football etc.

Childhood obesity if not kept under control, can lead to very serious health problems later. It is important to take proper medical guidance at very early stages. In addition to this, efforts must be made to bring about lifestyle changes to prevent further weight gain.

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