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The Risk of Obesity with Cerebral Palsy

By Cerebral Palsy Guidance

The Risk of Obesity with Cerebral Palsy

Children born with cerebral palsy face a number of potential health risks. This condition, which is neurological and affects movement, does not progress or get worse, but it cannot be cured either. Many children living with cerebral palsy struggle to move normally and this can potentially lead to inactivity and resulting weight gain, obesity, and associated conditions like diabetes. Issues with eating and nutrition may also contribute to the risk. There are ways, though, that children and adults with cerebral palsy can be more active, eat more healthfully, and maintain a healthy weight.

Cerebral Palsy and Impact on Activity

Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition that is caused by brain damage or malformation that occurs during fetal development, during birth, or shortly after birth. It does not progress or get worse with time, but the damage to the brain has lifelong impacts. Cerebral palsy affects muscle tone, balance, posture, fine and gross motor function, and reflexes, in other words how a person moves.

The condition ranges from mild to severe and every individual has different limitations and needs. Most will struggle to some degree with moving and being active. Some children cannot walk, while others can walk but still struggle with things like coordination or balance. These struggles can have a major impact on physical activity and there is always the risk that a child or adult living with cerebral palsy will not get enough exercise and will not maintain a healthy weight as a result.

Studies of children and adults with cerebral palsy have proven that there is a risk of becoming obese. A study of children living with cerebral palsy found that the rates of obesity in this population have increased significantly over the last couple of decades.

Diabetes and Other Consequences of Obesity

Researchers have also found that both children and adults with cerebral palsy are also at a greater risk for developing certain chronic health conditions that are associated with obesity. These include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes. One study found that 9.3 percent of adults with cerebral palsy have diabetes as compared to just 6.3 percent of adults in general.

All of these chronic health conditions are associated with obesity and sedentary lifestyles. A person with cerebral palsy, who struggles to move and be active, is at a greater risk for being sedentary, for becoming obese, and for developing these chronic and ongoing health problems. Cerebral palsy itself does not get progressively worse, but the secondary conditions associated with it can. As a person gets older it may become even more challenging to be active and the accumulating effects of being sedentary get worse.

Staying Active and Avoiding Obesity

While there may be more challenges when trying to be active for a person with cerebral palsy, it is not impossible to avoid becoming sedentary and gaining weight. Being active and getting fit should start in childhood. For a child with cerebral palsy, being active not only promotes lifelong health and a healthy weight, but it also helps make living with the condition easier. Physical activity helps these children sleep better, enjoy greater flexibility and strength, and better overall health and well-being.

Parents can help their children be more active by emphasizing it at an early age and helping to make exercise a lifelong habit. Even for children who have severe limitations, activities like physical therapy or recreational therapy with a trained professional can be a great way to get exercise. For those children who are better able to move, adaptive sports can be a lot of fun. Schools, communities, and non-profit organizations are pushing adaptive sports more than ever and providing greater opportunities for children with disabilities to get involved in sports like wheelchair basketball, swimming, or sled ice hockey.

Living with cerebral palsy poses many challenges, and a big one is being active. For both children and adults, the disabilities that come with this condition can be tough to overcome, but not impossible. Obesity is a very serious health condition and people who struggle to be active are at an increased risk for it. With the right support and adaptations, anyone with cerebral palsy can fight back against obesity and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

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