With more than a third of children and adolescents overweight or obese — a statistic that has tripled within the past three decades — the prevalence of childhood obesity has reached epidemic levels by most estimations.
While the indisputable facts have prompted a significant amount of legislative initiatives and public awareness campaigns aimed at reversal, individual instances do not always receive the attention needed for case-by-case prevention. This is particularly true when parents and families fail to understand the severity that obesity bears on a child’s short and long-term health outcomes.
Perhaps more difficult to offset than obesity itself are the co-morbid complications that are often undiagnosed until the end of the preventative phase. Physicians would welcome a non-invasive, painless way to provide families with a scientific and measurable assessment showing that a child’s weight affects his or her likelihood of developing an array of chronic diseases.
A new study that fellow researchers at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital and I are presenting at this year’s Digestive Disease Week (DDW) conference makes such concrete evidence easier than ever to access — less painful than the prick of a needle during an annual physical examination and easier still than a urinalysis.
Imagine — a breath test that assesses whether a child is obese, while also giving clues as to a child’s likelihood of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, fatty liver disease and sleep apnea. It could be a critical research tool for physicians and an imperative wake-up call for parents.
Like a fingerprint, this breath test offers an analytical snapshot of the volatile organic compounds in breath that are unique to each individual. In our study, the test identified obese children as compared to their lean counterparts at an accuracy rate of 92 percent.
What makes the study so important lies within the promise to expound upon its results. It is estimated that the recent skyrocket in type 2 diabetes rates, a condition previously uncommon among children, is directly linked to a steady rise in obesity nationwide.
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