teen eating burger and drinking sodaWe already know that OSA causes (and is related to) other serious health issues, no matter what your age is.  The following article focuses on teens diagnosed with OSA who are also battling obesity.  Studies have shown that 60% of obese children have OSA.  The author mentions the “chicken or egg” story, because many times it’s hard to know which came first. “We could think of sleep apnea as a symptom of obesity. But we could also see it the other way around”, says Dr. Nicholas Chadi.  Childhood obesity is a global epidemic and is associated with an increased risk of adult obesity in addition to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.  Obesity can magnify the OSA symptoms and exacerbate symptoms such as hypertension, arterial stiffness, and metabolic issues.
The obesity/sleep apnea cycle can be very destructive, especially for younger children and adolescents.  They are not getting enough quality sleep, thus making it more challenging to control their diet and exercise.  They start getting headaches during the day and may even experience high blood pressure.  The motivation is not there, and many times eating is used to stay awake for energy.  Another issue is children being attached to their phones or iPads at night, making it harder to get to sleep.  Recent research shows a strong connection between sleep deprivation and mental health problems like depression and trouble concentrating.  It is estimated that teen depression is on the rise, affecting anywhere from 3%-5% of teens.  For obese teens, however, we are looking for a much higher number, between 60%-70% who are depressed.

Weight loss benefits not only OSA severity but also cardiometabolic consequences related to both OSA and obesity. Unfortunately, weight loss through diet, exercise, and/or medications is difficult for adolescents to comply with.  CPAP therapy (still the gold standard of care) may assist with weight loss and may also improve some of the metabolic abnormalities of OSA and obesity.  Oral appliances are another option that has recently been medically accepted as a gold standard for even moderate OSA when the individual is CPAP intolerant, and then there is always surgery as a last resort.
Dr. Chadi says, “Really, the issue here is that we need to know more about sleep apnea in teens to research better ways to prevent it and treat it — and then once we’ve confirmed the diagnosis, really making sure that teens have access to treatment for that problem.”

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