Obesity: A Killer

by Dr. Philip S. Chua.

July 2, 2010

Look anywhere, or better yet, go to a hamburger restaurant or a junk food store, and you will surely see children who are overweight, if not obese, a growing timebomb, clicking and soon ready to explode. Many times, both of the parents and the other siblings are also overweight. Statistically, one in three children and adolescents is overweight, even higher in some minority segment of society.

Indeed, there is an obesity epidemic around us, more appropriately, a pandemic, since this unfortunate situation is happening all over the world, except perhaps in Africa and other third world countries where famine is the other extreme that is killing children prematurely. This pandemic started in the 1970s, when society was not weight-conscious and the unpopular medical warnings were simply ignored. As a result, today we have a third of the children population of the world who have fallen victims to a potentially deadly condition called childhood obesity.

But what’s wrong with a cute plump overweight child? The child might be a gorgeous and “healthylooking” kid, but medically, the youngster’s condition is a disaster waiting to happen. As countless studies have shown repeatedly, the prognosis for this beautiful young life with excess weight is dismal compared to children with normal weight. The same scientific findings are true with adults, everything else being equal. And it affects not only health but longevity.

The topic of diseases and lifestyle always reminds me of two past personal experiences in my life. The first one is the premature demise of my Dad, who was overweight, a heavy smoker, sedentary, and a hypertensive (high blood pressure), who succumbed to a heart attack at age 46 in 1962. My mother is 93, still doing video exercise every morning. My father would still be alive today, if the physicians then had the advanced knowledge and technology, like what we have today. At that time, even the cardiologist did not know that simple aspirin could help thin the blood and minimize heart attack. We did not have cardiac cath and angiogram then, much less, angioplasty and heart bypass surgery.

The second was the time when I performed triple coronary bypass surgery in the early 90s on a 28-year-old overweight lady, who, at that young age, was most unhealthy — a chronic cigarette-smoker, a diabetic, with hypertension and elevated cholesterol and triglyceride blood levels. Feeling well after surgery, she resumed her old bad habits of smoking, diet of red meats and eggs, and no exercise. The unhealthy lifestyle brought her back on the operating table 5 years after the first surgery. She has since behaved and leading a healthier and more productive life. The fundamental question is, what impact will her bad medical history (caused by her past unhealthy habits) have in her longevity?

The case of this patient is not uncommon. Heart patients are getting younger and younger. And obesity is one of the major causes of asthma, depression, acid reflux, hypertension, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol/lipids), heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and even cancer. Two new studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine predicts “a significant increase in the number of potentially fatal coronary heart disease cases in adults over the next few decades as a result of the prevalence of overweight kids today.”

Investigators at the University of California, San Francisco, “using current childhood obesity figures, historical trend data and scientific models, project in one study that by 2035 the prevalence of coronary heart disease in the United States will increase as much as 16 percent, with more than 100,000 excess cases of the disease attributable to the rise in obesity among kids.” A separate study conducted by Danish researchers, “used health data from 276,835 Danes, as they grew from schoolchildren into adults, and found that those with a higher body mass index (a measure of body fat based on height and weight) in childhood had an increased risk of developing heart disease as adults.”

Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children’s Hospital Boston and an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, warns that “without intervention the costs of childhood obesity may well become catastrophic,” a fact he stressed in an interview with Newsweek’s Jennifer Barrett.

If not controlled early in life, obesity becomes permanent, and the bad effects of obesity on the body physiology stay throughout the adult life of the individual. A significant number of youngsters with type 2 diabetes were cured with diet and weight control alone, others, with pills on top of weight management. This proves how normal weight can protect the body and its functions, including the immune system.

Carbohydrates (rice, bread, sugar, cakes, ice cream, candies, most sweets, non-diet soft drinks, other junk foods, etc) are a major culprit in weight gain and obesity in children and in adults. Since carbohydrates are also found in fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains (the healthy food items), those carbo items listed above are not really necessary in our diet. Staying away from carbo (especially rice, sweets, and pop drinks) will amazingly help in weight control faster than you can imagine. So carbo and fats are out and healthy protein is in, including bean curd (tofu) and other soya products.

Let’s all help stop this catastrophe- in-the-making in our own home. As I have suggested in previous articles, we, parents, must learn how to say “no” to our children, discipline them early to live a healthy lifestyle, and stop “killing” them with love.

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, is Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana, also based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the Philippine College of Surgeons. He is Chairman of Cardiac Surgery at the Cebu Doctors University Hospital in Cebu City, Philippines. Email:

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