Monthly Archives: May 2010

Is Childhood Obesity Increasing the Organ Shortage?

One could argue, “Yes,” quite convincingly because the statistics are staggering.  (The Author, Bob Aronson, received a heart transplant August 21, 2007 in Jacksonville, Florida)

According to First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” organization that focuses on the issue, “Obesity threatens the healthy future of one third of all American children. Obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years.  We spend $150 billion every year to treat obesity-related conditions, and that number is growing. For the first time in American history, our children’s life expectancy may be shorter than their parents.’

So what has this got to do with an organ shortage?  Simply put by allowing our children to get too heavy we are growing people who may someday need an organ transplant.  Adding insult to injury is the fact that if they need a transplant they may not be appropriate organ donors themselves.  It’s a double edged sword.  On one side the demand for organs may be increased and on the other the number of organs available for transplant may decrease.  All because of too many unhealthy eating and living choices, too much mac and cheese, too many Snickers bars and Coke, too many video games and not enough exercise.

“So,” you may ask, “What’s childhood obesity got to do with organ damage?”  The question is germane because the most effective way to reduce the organ shortage is to reduce the demand.  Here are the facts on childhood obesity according to Erica Lesperance, RD, LD a registered dietitian specially trained in pediatric nutrition and the nutritional treatment of inborn errors of metabolism.

Childhood obesity is on the rise. Worse, it has become the most prevalent pediatric problem in the United States, affecting as many as 15-30% of grade school children and adolescents. Obese children are very likely to become obese adults who will have a significantly higher risk of developing medical problems. Moreover, they are more likely to have their lives cut short by disease.

As the problem reaches epidemic proportions, we can no longer narrowly focus on the medical problems obese children will have as adults. They are suffering from a multitude of obesity-related problems right now. This issue must be addressed. Let’s take a look at how obesity affects the bodies of our young children.

Heart disease is no longer a health problem reserved for older men and women. Children who are overweight with a BMI above the 95th percentile are at-risk for having high “bad” cholesterol, low “good” cholesterol, high triglyceride levels, and high blood pressure. These are all risk factors for heart disease.

Effect of obesity on your lungs

Obesity affects a child’s lung capacity, increasing the risk for asthma. Asthma in turn makes it difficult to be physically active. In addition, overweight children are more likely to have sleep apnea, or episodes of airway blockage that interrupt breathing during sleep. The risks of undiagnosed sleep apnea in children include learning problems, developmental problems, behavior problems and in some cases, failure to grow, heart problems and high blood pressure.

Endocrine system problems caused by obesity

Although we rarely think about them, the glands of the endocrine system and the hormones they release influence almost every cell, organ, and function of our bodies. The endocrine system is instrumental in regulating mood, growth and development, tissue function and metabolism. Obesity affects the glands of the endocrine system, frequently causing menstrual irregularities in young women. Also affected is the pancreas, the organ that produces insulin, causing insulin resistance. Overweight children who have insulin resistance have an increased incidence of developing type 2 diabetes (see Juvenile Diabetes).

A story in USA Today describes the problem in grim detail.

  •  “Childhood obesity could decrease life expectancy by two to five years if something isn’t done about the epidemic, according to provocative research by pediatric endocrinologist David Ludwig, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
  •  One in three obese children have excess fat in their liver, which could lead to hepatitis, cirrhosis or liver failure, Ludwig says.
  •  “Obesity affects every organ system in a child’s body, and it can do so in a much more profound way than in adults because children are still growing and developing,” Ludwig says.

After all this the question remains, “What do you do about a child who is becoming too heavy?”  It all boils down to two issues; eating right and getting sufficient exercise.  The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta Georgia offers excellent specific advice on how you can have a positive effect on your children.  This site also goes into greater detail on how added weight can harm our children.

Please comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at  And – spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors.  On-line registration can be done at  Whenever you can, help people formally register.  There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance.  If you convince one person to be a donor you may save or positively affect over 50 lives.  Some of those lives may be people you know and love.  

You are also invited to join Organ Transplantation Initiative (OTI)!/group.php?gid=152655364765710 a group dedicated to providing help and information to donors, donor families, transplant patients and families, caregivers and all other interested parties.  Your participation is important if we are to influence decision makers to support efforts to increase organ donation and support organ regeneration, replacement and research efforts. 

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