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Children's health

15th May 2023

Obesity expert shares warning amid increase in toddlers being treated for diabetes

Ellen Fitzpatrick

An expert has sent out a warning amid an increase in overweight toddlers presenting with health conditions typically only found in older adults.

Toddlers and young children have been developing conditions like high blood pressure, knee joint problems, type two diabetes and blindness due to obesity in recent years.

Since the pandemic, clinicians have warned there could be a five-fold increase in severe obesity rates among children and one expert has warned of the implications it may cause.

Dr. Grace O’Malley at the national Child and Adolescent Obesity Service at Temple Street told “You’ll see fat tissue building up around the heart or the airway so that breathing can be affected – children will be more breathless, have higher rates of asthma, high blood pressure.

“Many of the kids will develop bad headaches from a build-up of pressure.

“Then chronic pain – that’s a big problem. That means children and teenagers drop out of school. Around the excess loading joints we can have higher levels of pain, particularly the knees, feet, back pain.”

She noted that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is now becoming an issue for some children, with obstructive sleep apnea also now being “pretty common”.

Dr. O’Malley added that about “three per cent” of children she has seen now are at high risk of developing type two diabetes.

This can be very serious when developed in early life and is typically seen in those aged in their 60s and 70s but has been seen in young adults, teenagers and children under the age of 10 over the last 20 years.

With conditions such as blindness and pain presenting in young children, O’Malley warned that they would not be able to play with their peers the same way and social lives can be impacted as well as their physical health.

While these conditions in children are rare, there is a rise in obesity among toddlers and young children since the pandemic.

Noting that it was “leveling-off” at the beginning of 2020, obesity rates in children are now increasing quickly since.

According to the HSE, one in four children in Ireland are overweight or obese, with one in 10 three year old in lower socio-economic groups are obese compared with one in twenty in higher socio-economic groups.

This figure is raised to four in 10 13 year olds in the lowest socio-economic groups who never participated in organised sports compared with less than two in ten in the highest socio-economic groups.


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