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Obese Children Suffer Like Cancer Kids

Behavior Therapy/Weight-Loss Drug may Help Some Teens
WebMD Health News

April 8, 2003 -- Children and teens with obesity suffer as much as those with cancer. Yet the pain suffered by obese children often goes unnoticed, says the researcher of a provocative new study.

It's hard for these kids to lose weight. It's even harder for them to keep lost weight off. Might drastic measures be called for? A second study suggests that the controversial weight-loss drug Meridia -- combined with intensive behavior therapy -- might help some teens lose some weight. Both studies appear in the April 9 issue of TheJournal of the American Medical Association.

Just how bad is a fat kid's life? Jeffrey B. Schwimmer, MD, works with overweight children and teens as director of the weight and wellness center at Children's Hospital and Health Center, San Diego. Suspecting that these kids are suffering more than most people think, he decided to find out where they stood relative to healthy children -- and to children with cancer. Schwimmer's research team gave a battery of quality-of-life tests to 106 obese children and teens and compared them with findings from healthy kids and kids getting chemotherapy for cancer. The children ranged in age from 5 to 18.

"Kids with cancer report the lowest known quality of life for children," Schwimmer tells WebMD. "We found it surprising that obese children had a quality of life as low as those with cancer and receiving chemotherapy."

It's not just a simple measure of pain. Obese children suffered from physical, emotional, and social problems. Their quality of life was at least as poor as kids with cancer. In some ways it was worse.

More weight-loss news from a special obesity issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Weight-Loss Programs Keep Pounds Off

Jury Still Out on Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Watching TV Instead of Your Waistline?

New Weight-Loss Drugs Pass First Tests

"For psychosocial health, obese children actually reported worse health than those with cancer," Schwimmer says. "Cancer is a bad thing. Children, parents, teachers, and doctors all understand it is a bad thing. A great deal of sympathy goes to children with cancer and rightfully so. Children who are obese are not sympathized with. In fact, they are stigmatized, yet their quality of life is as bad as that of kids with cancer. This is good evidence that parents and teachers and doctors need to be aware of risk of bad quality of life in obese children. This is a rapidly growing problem."

Rapidly growing indeed. One in seven U.S. children is obese. Obese children have all kinds of health problems -- and these problems continue and worsen as they grow up. And that's not all. Schwimmer found that obese kids miss four times as much school as healthy kids, suggesting a "striking" impact on academic achievement.

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