40% of obese children treated in Temple St ‘socially withdrawn’ because of weight issues

Some 40% of children seen at the obesity clinic in Temple Street Children’s Hospital displayed withdrawn behaviour and psychological difficulties.

40% of obese children treated in Temple St ‘socially withdrawn’ because of weight issues

The figures, presented by Dr Sinead Murphy, a paediatrician in Temple St, also indicated that 40% of those treated at the clinic had high cholesterol.

The findings were part of a presentation on the subject of childhood obesity given yesterday at the St Luke’s Symposium in Dublin, organised by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI).

Delegates at the symposium heard that the first 400 families analysed by the clinic since it started an obesity treatment programme in 2007 had made a number of findings in relation to what causes obesity, and how it can be addressed.

According to Dr Murphy, who is also Director of Paediatric Education in UCD, an overweight or obese 10-year-old has a more than 80% chance of becoming an overweight or obese adult.

She also listed a number of factors in children becoming overweight and obese, including:

nsocioeconomic factors, with children in lower socioeconomic groups more susceptible;

ndiet, including infant feeding, early weaning, calorie and fat dense food and disorganised eating patterns;

nphysical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle;

ngenetics, such as having parents who are obese;

nand an “obesogenic environment”, which Dr Murphy said “pulls the trigger” in some cases.

Dr Murphy said that while exercise could help combat obesity, the idea that it was an answer on its own was “a myth”, citing the example of a 14-year-old having to run 26 miles to “exercise out” a 2,200-calorie meal. Fewer than 50% of Irish children get the required amount of exercise of 60 minutes per day.

She said some children had a “genetic predisposition” or genetic susceptibility towards obesity.

“We can recognise the children quite early that may have this predisposition and educate them to take healthy decisions,” she said.

Other findings included that 55% of the children analysed had insulin resistance; 11% had elevated AST or possibly compromised liver function; and 8.8% had hyperglycaemia or high blood sugar.

In addition, 40% had raised cholesterol and the same percentage had clinically significant psychological difficulties, which Dr Murphy said was more often a result of, rather than a factor in, obesity.

“In young clients it would be almost the norm that they would be in tears when asked if people tease them about their weight,” she said.

‘I started to hate myself’

The personal impact of childhood obesity has been highlighted in quotes from patients at one of the country’s main children’s hospitals, including a 12-year-old’s declaration: “I started to hate myself.”

Other quotes from patients attending the obesity clinic in Temple Street Children’s Hospital are equally plaintive.

“I was ashamed on Facebook with a horrible photo of me. It might have been funny if only my mates saw it, but thousands did,” said a 14-year-old.

Someone a year older said: “I don’t go outside any more”; while a 13-year-old referred to a parent: “She found the food I was hiding.”

An eight-year-old said: “I hate my body — I need a diet.”

And a child aged just five said: “Nobody in my class will play with me.”

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