Many children are developing health problems typically not seen until much later in life, like heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
A nationwide study on obesity suggests the Bay State is among the healthiest in the nation, but the results also show the state does only a so-so job when it comes to combating obesity among children and teens.
The study, released by the Trust for America's Health, found the obesity rate among Massachusetts adults is the second-lowest in the nation, topped only by Colorado.
For children, however, the results weren't as good.
Among children age 10 to 17, nearly 14 percent were found to be obese, the study found, giving Massachusetts the 27th highest childhood obesity rate in the country, a trend researchers say bodes poorly for the future.
``There's a lot of researchers who are worried this generation of kids is going to be the first in American history that's less healthy than their parents,'' said Laura Segal, a spokeswoman for the Trust for America's Health.
As a result, many children are developing health problems typically not seen until much later in life, like heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes, Segal said.
Recent research has even shown a link between obesity and an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease and some birth defects.
``This generation of kids, as they become young adults, it's not just putting themselves at risk, it's potentially the next generation,'' Segal said.
``That's the troubling aspect of it,'' agreed MetroWest Community Health Care Foundation president and CEO Martin Cohen. ``It's why we've put so much focus on childhood obesity. It's something we've got to nip now, because the real health impacts are when these kids become adults.''
To help combat childhood obesity, the foundation earlier this year launched an ad campaign and Web site targeting the problem, and has so far spent about $1.75 million, Cohen said.
And with students prepping to return to school in coming weeks, he expects the campaign to ramp up with a new fall push.
``We hope to do another run of public service announcements,'' he said. ``In looking at the last campaign, obviously the billboards have the greatest impact. I think we're going to continue doing that.''
The foundation is also working to organize events or contests directly with schools, and is hoping to convince districts to provide healthier options in cafeterias.
``I think we can still tackle it,'' Cohen said, of childhood obesity. ``The good news is we're better off than other places in the country, the bad news is we can do better.''
Among those who do meet the definition of obese, many - even in MetroWest - are taking drastic measures.
Since opening his practice with a partner in January, MetroWest Medical Center bariatric surgeon Dr. Khaled Yehia said his office has performed 15 gastric bypass surgeries.
``These patients who come in, they are seeking help,'' he said. ``Fifteen patients for gastric bypass, is a lot in a short time in a new program.''
As proof of the epidemic of childhood obesity, Yehia said, his patients are increasingly younger.
Though many are older, many are as young as 19 or 20. The youngest patient he performed surgery on, he said, was just 18 years old.
``There's a whole different dynamic for children and obesity,'' said Kerri Steinberg, an outpatient dietician at Milford Regional Medical Center. ``There's the family dynamic to consider. If the parents aren't setting the example, and really helping the kids with the follow-through and doing what they expect their kids to do at home, then it's hard to expect the kids to follow though with it.''
Peter Reuell of The MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News can be reached at 508-626-4428, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.