In the last decade, the number of people who frequently experience heartburn has almost doubled. The number on the scale has increased for most Americans as well. While many studies have confirmed the connection between weight and GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) in adults, it turns out this upward trend in waistlines has also shaped many of our children, and the GERD epidemic has followed.
As waist sizes are growing, more children are presenting with ongoing reflux symptoms – like heartburn, regurgitation and general pain in their upper abdominal area. For health care professionals, managing care for young GERD patients can be difficult as the majority of research is adult-focused. Yet, left untreated, complications such as erosive esophagitis and sleep apnea can occur, and the quality of life can decrease for both children and parents.
For kids who deal with ongoing reflux, life is not as easy going as it should be. Sometimes uncomfortable symptoms cause a withdrawal from normal activities, like sports and outdoor play. Or a fear of developing painful symptoms – like a stomach ache – may lead to less physical activity. These withdrawals can further compound weight issues and lead to isolation from friends.
Until a few years ago, GERD studies mostly focused on the adult population. However a study titled "Obesity and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Gastroesophageal Reflux Symptoms in Children" set out to explore the direct relationship between GERD and children's body mass index (BMI). The findings confirmed what was already suspect – that being overweight is cause for GERD, even in children.
If you're a parent or caregiver, you can do your part to keep GERD from becoming a childhood epidemic by encouraging kids to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight:
- if needed, seek guidance from a healthcare professional or nutritionist for an appropriate meal plan
- avoid processed foods and fast food
- limit the amount of sedentary time from watching TV and playing computer games
- get moving – walk to the park, play catch and engage in fun, physical activities
- get plenty of sleep
The benefits of helping your child sustain an optimal weight go far beyond the prevention of GERD. Children who are obese can suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other problems – both physical and psychological.
As many adults know, ongoing acid reflux is more than uncomfortable – it can cause painful symptoms, sleepless nights and lead to long-term health problems. It's challenging enough to experience as a grown-up, let alone a child. Given what we know about excess weight and GERD, we should all contribute to helping younger generations steer clear of this and other obesity-related diseases.
1. Mendes, Elizabeth. "In U.S., Obesity Up in Nearly All Age Groups Since 2008". GALLUP® Wellbeing http://www.gallup.com/poll/158351/obesity-nearly-age-groups-2008.aspx . October 24, 2012.
2. Hoda M, J Kennard Fraley, Suhaib Abudayyeh, Kenneth W Fairly, Ussama S Javed, Heba Aboul-Fotouh, Nora Mattek, and Mark A Gilger. "Obesity and gastroesophageal reflux disease and gastroesophageal reflux symptoms in children". Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology. 2009; 2: 31–36.