UAlberta research shows: a study of 181 children with obesity aged eight to 17 years old showed that up to a third could be classified as “metabolically healthy,” meaning they’re not imminently at risk of developing insulin resistance—a precursor to Type 2 diabetes—high blood pressure, high cholesterol or other obesity-related diseases.
This study was originally published in Diabetes Care, senior author Geoff Ball, associate professor of pediatrics in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry says “It’s not all about fat, even for kids who meet the definition of obesity.”
Geoff Ball received a BSc in Dietetics from the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, BC), completed a dietetic internship with Capital Health (Edmonton, AB), and obtained a PhD in Nutrition and Metabolism from the University of Alberta (Edmonton, AB).
After completing post-doctoral training in Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA), Geoff joined the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alberta. He serves as the Founding Director of the Pediatric Centre for Weight and Health, a multi-disciplinary weight management clinic at the Stollery Children’s Hospital (Edmonton, AB). Geoff’s clinical and health services research includes several methodological approaches (e.g., clinical trials, qualitative inquiry, epidemiology, literature reviews) to achieve a primary goal – generate and apply new knowledge that can optimize obesity management and prevention for children, youth, and families. His research has been supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Public Health Agency of Canada, Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions, Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research, Women and Children’s Health Research Institute, and Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Geoff Ball – Metabolically Healthy Obesity
What does the term “Childhood obesity” bring to mind? Epidemic? Genetics?
How about …Healthy? Probably not , but perhaps it should.
When it comes to obesity and weight management, health is often considered according to a biomedical paradigm. This can include aspects of health including psychosocial (body image, self-worth), physical (activity/movement, bone and joint health), and metabolic (blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin sensitivity) measurements.
Our research team has expertise in metabolic health, so we were interested in studying the blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin sensitivity of boys and girls with obesity who enrolled in a weight management clinic at our local children’s hospital.
We wanted to study the metabolic health of these children. That is, is there a sub-group of children with obesity that is at relatively low health risk, and what are the lifestyle factors that determine this state of ‘metabolically healthy obesity’?
Out of approximately 200 children in our study, 20 to 30% were in the ‘metabolically healthy’ group with normal blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin levels. We found that obesity doesn’t have a consistent impact on the metabolic health of children and that there’s a lot of variability child-to-child. Body fat distribution, diet and physical activity habits are all influencing factors. We looked at metabolic health in a couple of different ways, and either way, those factors were accurate predictors of metabolic health.
This is important for a couple of different reasons. First, it can be really difficult for children with obesity to lose and maintain their weight. Knowing this, if children and their families can focus on eating healthfully and being physical active, they can likely improve their metabolic health even if their weight doesn’t change. Second, there are limited specialized health services available for managing childhood obesity, so if children are screened and assessed for metabolic health risk, health care can be prioritized for those who are at greatest need.