Obese Children Suffer Like Cancer Kids
Behavior Therapy/Weight-Loss Drug may Help Some Teens
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
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
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.
"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.