Young Kids, Old Bodies

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from TIME Magazine,

Runaway obesity is turning a generation of children into biological adults, aging them before their time.

Glance through Kimberly Rhodes’ medical records and the diagnoses read like a complete spreadsheet of 21st century American health problems. She’s gained 19 lb. (8.6 kg) in the past three years and developed insulin resistance, so she is now considered prediabetic. Her liver is embedded with layers of fat that have scarred the healthy tissue around it and caused cirrhosis. The enzymes it produces, which serve as a marker for how well it is functioning, have plummeted 84%. So far, her blood pressure hovers just within normal range, but she’s borderline hypertensive. She is regularly treated by a family doctor, a gastroenterologist and an endocrinologist, but if her blood pressure keeps rising, it would mean another doctor–a nephrologist–to track whether her kidneys are suffering any damage. These measures are fairly typical for the roughly two-thirds of adult Americans who are overweight or obese.

But Kimberly is 13 years old, and if she is unusual, it’s only because of the severity of her various conditions, not that she suffers from them. Her liver condition makes her so fatigued, she prefers to be homeschooled these days, distancing her from the world of her peers. Kimberly’s mother Stacey says the Ohio teen started gaining weight “out of nowhere” when she was 4. “I am heartbroken. As a parent you never want to hear your daughter or son has any [health] problems, let alone a disease that may be a killer at one point,” she says.

This is the American Nightmare–that for the first time ever, a generation of children may have a shorter life expectancy at birth than their parents. Obese children are at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and atherosclerosis. They are twice as likely as their normal-weight peers to develop certain cancers and may be less likely to survive others.

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