Childhood obesity, adipose tissue distribution, and the pediatric practitioner.


A H Slyper

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The prevalence of pediatric obesity is increasing in the United States. Sequelae from pediatric obesity are increasingly being seen, and long-term complications can be anticipated. Obesity is the most common cause of abnormal growth acceleration in childhood. Obesity in females is associated with an early onset of puberty and early menarche. Puberty is now occurring earlier in females than in the past, and this is probably related either directly or indirectly to the population increase in body weight. The effect of obesity on male pubertal maturation is more variable, and obesity can lead to both early and delayed puberty. Pubertal gynecomastia is a common problem in the obese male. Many of the complications of obesity seen in adults appear to be related to increased accumulation of visceral fat. It has been proposed that subcutaneous fat may be protective against the adverse effects of visceral fat. Males typically accumulate fat in the upper segment of the body, both subcutaneously and intraabdominally. In females, adiposity is usually subcutaneous and is found particularly over the thighs, although visceral fat deposition also occurs. Gender-related patterns of fat deposition become established during puberty and show significant familial associations. There are no reliable means for assessing childhood and adolescent visceral fat other than radiologically. Noninsulin-dependent diabetes is being seen more commonly in the pediatric population. Diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance are noted particularly in obese children with a family history of diabetes. In this situation, a glucose tolerance test may be indicated, even in the presence of fasting normoglycemia. Hypertriglyceridemia and low high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol levels are the primary lipid abnormalities of obesity and are related primarily to the amount of visceral fat. Low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol levels are not typically elevated in simple obesity. The offspring of parents with early coronary disease tend to be obese. Very low-density lipoprotein and intermediate-density lipoprotein particles, which are small in size, may be important in atherogenesis but they cannot be identified in a fasting lipid panel. The propensity to atherogenesis cannot be interpreted readily from a fasting lipid panel, which therefore should be interpreted in conjunction with a family history for coronary risk factors. Hypertriglyceridemia may be indicative of increased visceral fat, familial combined hyperlipidemia, familial dyslipidemic hypertension, impaired glucose tolerance, or diabetes. Almost half of adult females with polycystic ovary syndrome are obese and many have a central distribution of body fat. This condition frequently has its origins in adolescence. It is associated with increased androgen secretion, hirsutism, menstrual abnormalities, and infertility, although these may not be present in every case. Adults with polycystic ovary syndrome adults are hyperlipidemic, have a high incidence of impaired glucose tolerance and noninsulin-dependent diabetes, and are at increased risk for coronary artery disease. Weight reduction and lipid lowering therefore are an important part of therapy. Obstructive sleep apnea with daytime somnolence is a common problem in obese adults. Pediatric studies suggest that obstructive sleep apnea occurs in approximately 17% of obese children and adolescents. Sleep disorders in the obese may be a major cause of learning disability and school failure, although this remains to be confirmed. Symptoms suggestive of a sleep disorder include snoring, restlessness at night with difficulty breathing, arousals and sweating, nocturnal enuresis, and daytime somnolence. Questions to exclude obstructive sleep apnea should be part of the history of all obese children, particularly for the morbidly obese. For many children and adolescents with mild obesity, and particularly for females, one can speculate that obesity may not be a great health risk





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Medicine and Health Sciences | Pediatrics




Department of Pediatrics

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