“It’s almost like the chicken and the egg, which came first,” says Dr. Cayce Jehaimi, pediatric endocrinologist with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.
A question that puzzles doctors: are low levels of thyroid hormone causing kids to gain weight or is the excess weight causing the thyroid deficiency? The pair often go hand-in-hand.
“I can tell you for sure, there has been a significant increase of thyroid disease among child who have weight problems,” says Dr. Jehaimi.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland isn’t producing enough of the hormone that regulates metabolism.
“Meaning that the child’s metabolism can be reduced and they’re not going to be burning off calories as normal as they should,” says Dr. Jehaimi.
Many parents would like to chalk their child’s weight gain to low metabolism or a thyroid disorder. But it takes a doctor’s diagnosis. One of the first things they’ll do is a blood test.
“A lot of children who come in for a thyroid problem have an elevation of a hormone called TSH- thyroid stimulating hormone. When it exceeds certain thresholds it can affect negatively the metabolism,” says Dr. Jehaimi.
A high TSH is the body’s way of trying to produce more hormone and make up for the deficiency. This lack of thyroid hormone has bigger consequences than weight alone.
“There have been a lot of studies that looked into bone density being compromised, the cardiac contractility gets compromised. A lot of kids have mental problems; cognitive and specific short term memory loss,” says Dr. Jehaimi.
Sometimes hormone levels regulate with changes in diet and weight loss, but oftentimes need help.
“Many of those kids do end up needing thyroid hormonal replacement in order to revive the metabolism or help them lose their weight,” says Dr. Jehaimi.
While thyroid disease may be a growing problem- there are solutions that can put children on the proper pace.