Childhood obesity recognized as a severe health crisis

The pediatric obesity epidemic has become cemented as one of the nation’s most challenging health crises. Before the end of this decade, at least one of every five children in the United States will be overweight, increasing their risks of such future health problems as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“Mortality from tobacco, alcohol and traffic accidents will pale in comparison to the effect obesity is having and will have on the health care system,” said Harvey Cohen, MD, Chief of the Department of Pediatrics at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

In response to the epidemic, pediatric medical centers around the country are developing comprehensive programs to address the problem of childhood obesity, and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital is no exception. This year saw the launch of the hospital’s Center for Healthy Weight.

The Center’s program addresses obesity prevention, medical and psychological intervention, and molecular biological approaches as well as advocacy. Its director, Thomas Robinson, MD, MPH, associate professor of pediatrics, has helped to set national policy on the issue, serving on a National Academies’ Institute of Medicine panel that in September issued a report, Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance. The report recommends sweeping actions to be taken by all levels of government, the food industry, media, health-care professionals, schools and parents.

“We are calling for nothing less than a revolution in the way we think about nutrition and physical activity in all aspects of our society, and how we raise our children and prioritize their health and well-being,” Robinson said.

Over the summer, LPCH also opened the Pediatric Weight Clinic to address the medical needs of overweight children and adolescents and their families. And in November, the hospital took the bold step of becoming the first pediatric hospital in California to perform bariatric surgery. “There is a small number of teens for whom this surgery may turn out to be the best or only option,” Robinson said. “We are offering the procedure because some teens have life-threatening complications related to their obesity.”