Childhood Obesity and its Progression as a Global Threat
With the continuous increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity, it has now been recognized as a global health problem (Lobstein et al., 2015). This health issue is not only limited to developed countries, but also affects low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, all of which are now experiencing a relative increase in childhood obesity (Mistry et al., 2015).
This burgeoning predicament has become a serious public health threat as obese children are likely to grow up into obese individuals, thereby becoming prone to subsequent long-term health-related issues and consequences. Such health-related consequences may lead to economic burden and influence the productivity of the society and nation as a whole.
A study published in 2010 showed that the global trend of relative increase in early childhood obesity was 21% during the period of 1990-2000, with an increase to 31% in the succeeding decade. The authors estimated an additional increase in childhood obesity to 36% in the coming decade (2010-2020). In the same study, the prevalence rate of childhood obesity in developed countries (11.7%) was confirmed to be twice that in developing countries (6.1%). However, the majority of affected children live in developing countries; the relative percentage change is higher (an increase of 65%) in developing countries as compared to developed countries (an increase of 48%) during the time-frame of 1990-2000 (de Onis et al., 2010).
Studies have highlighted the correlation of obesity with leptin and other risk factors, such as genetic factors, lifestyle choices, dietary patterns and exercise. It seems that a concrete cause of childhood obesity has yet to be found. A systematic review concluded that certain maternal factors also contribute to the development of childhood obesity (Woo Baidal et al., 2016).
However, identifying the potential biomarker is vital in diagnosing the presence and determining the severity of the disease. Biomarkers are helpful in detecting the biochemical and physiological state of disease progression in patients, and thence useful for developing new treatment strategies for a particular disease.
Leptin is an adipokine hormone produced predominantly by white adipose tissue. Thus, since an elevated circulating level of leptin is closely linked with not only increased adipose tissue but also a higher body mass index, leptin acts as a biomarker molecule for obesity (Myers et al., 2008). However, human physiology differs between adulthood and childhood, male or female genders, elderly population and maternal cases.
In such a scenario, studies were performed to better understand the potential biomarker in the case of childhood obesity specifically. A study concluded that leptin and its receptor can act as a potential biomarker for childhood obesity and discussed continued study at the molecular level to further verify these findings (Venner et al., 2006).
In addition to identifying the molecular mechanisms and developing individualized treatment therapy, action towards prevention is also needed. As we all know: “Prevention is Better than Cure.” The negative health impact of childhood obesity is serious and hence the steps for preventing it is another better option.
de Onis, M., Blössner, M. and Borghi, E., 2010. Global prevalence and trends of overweight and obesity among preschool children. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 92(5): 1257-64.
Lobstein, T., Jackson-Leach, R., Moodie, M.L., Hall, K.D., Gortmaker, S.L., Swinburn, B.A., James, W.P.T., Wang, Y. and McPherson, K., 2015. Child and adolescent obesity: Part of a bigger picture. The Lancet 385(9986): 2510-20.
Mistry, S.K. and Puthussery, S., 2015. Risk factors of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence in South Asian countries: a systematic review of the evidence. Public Health 129: 200-9.
Myers, M.G., Cowley, M.A. and Munzberg, H., 2008. Mechanisms of leptin action and leptin resistance. Annual Review of Physiology 70: 537-56.
Venner, A.A., Lyon, M.E. and Doyle-Baker, P.K., 2006. Leptin: A potential biomarker for childhood obesity? Clinical Biochemistry 39: 1047-56.
Woo Baidal, J.A., Locks, L.M., Cheng, E.R., Blake-Lamb, T.L., Perkins, M.E. and Taveras, E.M., 2016. Risk factors for children obesity in the first 1,000 days. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 50(6): 761-79.
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