Childhood obesity can create many health problems for children. Some health problems include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type II Diabetes, hip problems, depression and livers that are fatty and fail to function properly.  Children can also suffer from depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

Another health problem is the development of ear, nose and throat problems. Obesity can cause a child to develop sleep apnea and there may be a relationship to middle ear infections, as well.

It’s important to recognize the impact that overweight and obesity is having on the health of children because, despite programs that encourage exercise and healthy foods, the rate of childhood obesity in the United States has doubled over the last twenty years.  More than 15 percent1 of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and more than 15 percent1 of those between the ages of 12 to 19 are overweight or obese.

If your child is overweight or obese there are health conditions that you need to watch for and discuss with your ENT doctor.

Is overweight or obesity causing sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is caused by many things:

  • A heavy neck: If your child has fatty deposits around the chin and neck area it will press on the airway when lying in a sleeping position. That will obstruct the airway and cause your child to briefly and repeatedly stop breathing while asleep.
  • Overweight or obese stomach: This will make it difficult for the chest and stomach to expand to take in air while sleeping.
  • Enlarged tonsils: These will also obstruct the airway while sleeping.

A child with sleep apnea can stop breathing for up to a minute or longer during the night. They may do this as little as ten times or as many as sixty times a night.2 Believe it or not, one to three percent of children as young as two to five years old have sleep apnea.3

If your child snores, it could be a symptom of sleep apnea and, as such, best practice for pediatricians is to screen children for snoring as a way of detecting sleep apnea.

Left untreated, sleep apnea can severely impact a child’s growth and may be the reason for learning difficulties, behavior issues and trouble paying attention in school.

Otolaryngologists can treat sleep apnea in your child. After a consultation with you and your child, they can develop a treatment plan to allow your child to sleep better through the night.

Does your child need a tonsillectomy to treat sleep apnea?

If tonsils become infected or enlarged, they can obstruct the airway while a child is sleeping. An ENT specialist can surgically remove the tonsils to correct this issue. Usually a tonsillectomy is a simple procedure and the child goes home the same day. However, obesity can cause complications that require the child to receive additional medical care after the tonsillectomy. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, research has found that “morbid obesity was a contributing factor for requiring an overnight hospital admission for a child undergoing removal of enlarged tonsils.” Obese children tend to require a follow-up appointment with the physician the day after surgery, need intensive care more frequently and longer-term treatment for sleep apnea after surgery than non-obese children.

Does your child have more middle ear infections?

Although there is no clinical connection between obesity and middle ear infections, researchers suspect there is a behavioral one. It appears that when a child shows discomfort from an ear infection, parents tend to offer sweets for comfort. The theory is that a child with frequent ear infections runs a greater risk of being obese. It is not a clinically proven connection, but one that highlights the need for parents to rely on healthy snacks most of the time, rather than sugary ones.

The good news is that ENT specialists can treat your child’s snoring and sleep apnea. Parents can help reduce overweight and obesity by encouraging their children to engage in fun exercise and teaching them to eat healthy food. Together, we can raise children with healthy habits that will serve them well for a lifetime.



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