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‘Alarming’ Obesity Rate Seen In Kids With Down Syndrome


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New research on a group of Dutch children with Down syndrome is calling attention to the staggering number of kids with the disorder who are overweight.

In a study of nearly 1,600 children with Down syndrome in the Netherlands, researchers found that those with the chromosomal disorder were on average twice as likely as their typically developing peers to be overweight or obese.

Starting at age 4, about a quarter of the children with Down syndrome studied were overweight, researchers report in the journal Pediatrics this week. That percentage remained consistent among older kids with the disorder as well.

Notably, researchers found a dramatic increase between the ages of 2 and 6 in the number of kids with Down syndrome who were overweight, a trend that was not as significant among typically developing kids. The rise occurred even among those with the disorder who were otherwise healthy.

It is unclear whether there are underlying biological factors making people with Down syndrome more likely to be overweight or purely lifestyle considerations at play, the study indicates, but researchers called the prevalence of kids who were overweight or obese “alarming.”

“Health care professionals should be aware of the risk … and should ensure that growth is monitored regularly in all children with (Down syndrome), thus enabling early detection of inappropriate weight gain and starting appropriate interventions where necessary,” researchers wrote.

Similarly high rates of obesity in children with special needs in the United States were reported last year. Domestically, researchers with the federal Health Resources and Services Administration found that more than 36 percent of kids ages 10 to 17 with special needs were overweight or obese compared to about 30 percent of other children.

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Comments (11 Responses)

  1. Liz says:

    You could start with thyroid functions; how much fast food and soda pop?
    Schools in USA seem to have IEP goals that teach how to order fast food and not healthy nutritional choices. These are not surprising results.

  2. fairlady68 says:

    I am on the autism spectrum and really struggle with controlling myself around foods, especially sweets. I know Down is a different syndrome, but I can say about myself that it is as if the “governor” or control mechanism that reminds me how I feel later, and how I hate being fat, never kicks in until after I overeat, every time. It’s pretty frustrating. Also, I suspect that food for me is a sort of anodyne for the pain of living in an autistic body and struggling with a neurotypical world. Maybe the Down folks have similar issues.

  3. Talina J. says:

    I would be interested in the way that this correlates with sleep patterns as well. I know there has been research that linked sleep patterns with obesity . Many parents including myself , will tell you that many of our children with Trisomy 21 have atypical sleep patterns and they crave junk . I think the sleep issue could tell us more , as well as the thyroid piece that another person referenced.

  4. msamericanpatriot says:

    I am autistic and have hypothyroidism and I am overweight. I have a weight doctor that is helping me.

  5. HannahsMom says:

    This is a major concern for me for my almost 15 year old daughter. She is medically obese. The cardiologist gives me the sympathetic look everytime we must go for a check-up. I know its not good, I know something needs to change. It is a frustrating position to be in for all concerned. My daughter is active, definitely never a couch potato and while she does eat junk food, its moderate & not excessive. We all eat our share of junk in our house, but not excessively. She does have hypothyroidism as well. I just don’t have answers, I just know I refuse to starve my daughter & take away every single piece of enjoyment she has in her very different world from that of other 15 yr old teen girls. who doesn’t enjoy a cup of ice cream or McDonald’s occasionally. I don’t have answers. only frustration and immense concern.

  6. Glen H says:

    Fairlady68: I’m sorry you feel that society as treated you unfairly. However, just by the fact that you are typing puts you in a different league than many with disabilities. The idea of equating disability with identity is a fallacy perpetrated by many adults today who feel society “owes” them. How about we keep our eye on the ball by dealing with the issue at had? How does society, the medical establishment, and the whole health establishment deal with obesity in general and specifically in individuals with Downs and other disabilities?

  7. Rebecca says:

    I would be interested to know what percentage of the population of children who are obese are also on gluten free diets. There is a high prevalance of Celiac disease among people with Down Syndrome – well over 10%, and a higher percentage of the disease within this genetic geographical region than in most parts of the world. Gluten free products such as pasta, bread, snacks, etc. that are developed to taste like ‘the original’ products made with gluten containing grains, tend to be more calorie dense and contain more sugars.
    Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are highly underdiagnosed conditions, but we are making progress. The American Academy of Pediatrics just published in thier November journal, that they are officially recognizing a link between digestive disorders (leaky gut, gluten intolerance, celiac, etc) and brain function (Autism spectrum disorders, Attention Deficit Disorders, etc.). As more of these connections are made and more people are diagnosed, if the trend to replace glutenous food products with more refined and calorie dense – albeit ‘gluten free’ foods will only exacerbate this problem.

  8. Ian says:

    The article states “researchers found a dramatic increase between the ages of 2 and 6 in the number of kids with Down syndrome who were overweight, a trend that was not as significant among typically developing kids.” I would be curious to see if there are differences in diet between 2 to 6 year-old children with and without down syndrome, and if so, how do their diets differ?

  9. Dadvocate says:

    This study will come as zero surprise to anyone who has ever attended a large Special Olympics event. Obesity + DS seems like it’s been a big issue for a long time. It’s about time that researchers are taking it seriously. Obesity obviously leads to a lot of potentially avoidable health issues including premature death. My susupicion is that obesity rate in the ASD community probably exceeds the general population due to the challenges that daily living brings but doesn’t approach the rate in DS, but it’s just an uneducated guess.

    In any event, it’s good that researchers aren’t being dismissive of the issue.

  10. Liz says:

    I’m going to expand on my original comment. My son has both Down syndrome and autistic spectrum disorder. He is now 31, and his weight is normal. In the beginning of school years, and with early therapy sessions, it was a battle not to have therapists use food as a positive reinforcement. ALL of them tried,
    and argued about it. My son had a lot of dental issues, and I was not in favor of using sweets, be it raisins or candy or cookies as a treat or exchange for learning. I’ve always felt it removed the “joy” component from learning. Applause or a “good job” was and is sufficient. Sweets are an occasional treat.
    He had heart surgery when he was 6 months old. So far his thyroid function is normal. When he was 5 or 6 we went to a Down syndrome convention, and we were eating dinner at a restaurant (he ate salad, salmon, and rice). Parents at a nearby table asked how I did it–their son would only eat McDonalds. I told them if that was the only “eating out experience” the child had, that would be all he wanted. Expand your horizons. Eat well. My son has issues with realizing he is “full” so I use portion control. He has nut allergies. We also take fish oil (Omega swirl tastes like lemon pie, and there are peach and other flavors).
    It seems to help with appetite and neurological balance.

    Hold your ground early with school districts and IEPs–make food more that simply being able to order fast food. Learn about nutrition. Try growing a garden, and you will value the food you eat more than simply buying it at a supermarket. Train them young! Lots of fast food has hidden MSG and sugars and salts, most of which are excessive, and leave one “addicted” to the stuff. If you have ever had a problem with gallstones (he had this at age 3 from the IV fluids in ICU), you will control your diet of fast fried foods. It might save you life. Down syndrome kids/people generally have different metabolisms and nutritional needs that are not always understood. Most MDs aren’t trained in nutrition. Educate yourselves.

  11. Lori says:

    I urge everyone to at least consider a gluten intolerance if not celiacs. My daughter is 17 w/ DS has had a gluten intolerance for the last 8 years. When she came off gluten products she was less bloated had less reflux (stopped taking medication) and seems to be eating somewhat smaller portions.

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