A majority of children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN) surveyed were found to be obese and not meeting recommended levels of 60 minutes of daily physical activity, according to a recent Drexel University School of Public Health study published in the International Journal of Pediatrics.
The many health consequences of obesity in childhood and adolescence include high blood pressure and high cholesterol, joint and musculoskeletal problems, and risk of social/psychological problems. Children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults and may be at risk for serious health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
As such, the authors—including lead Katie Feehan, a recent graduate of the MPH program at Drexel and co-author Dr. Renee Turchi, an assistant professor at the Drexel University School of Public Health—say this is the first study of its kind. While the percentage of typically developing children who are obese has increased from 5% to 17% over the past three decades, there are still no national statistics on CYSHCN who are overweight or obese.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study conducted in primary care to examine parent perspectives and community resource needs to promote physical activity in CYSHCN. This clinic-based study was conducted with a vulnerable population living in an underserved community. Additionally, this study contributes to the limited literature documenting overweight and obesity CYSHCN,” the authors state.
Feehan, Turchi and coauthors surveyed 23 CYSHCN between the ages of 3 and 18, and 21 parents or guardians. The children were separated into two diagnostic categories: physical/medical conditions (this includes cerebral palsy, asthma, seizures, etc.) and cognitive/emotional/behavioral conditions (which include autism, ADHD, mood disorders, and severe intellectual disabilities). Families completed a series of questionnaires and the children’s height and weight were measured to calculate their body mass index (BMI).
According to the authors’ findings, more resources to promote physical activity are needed for CYSHCN. These include playgrounds, pools, gyms, and summer camps, as well as physical and occupational therapists working in primary care clinics for CYSHCN that should provide resources, equipment ideas, and program ideas to promote healthy participation in physical activity and active recreation for the families.
The authors note that it is important that parents recognize the prevalence of being overweight and obese among CYSHCN and assist their children to be more physically active. Additionally, it is important that universally accessible community resources be made available to CYSHCN.