Local look: Childhood obesity

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Local nutrition advocates weighed in on the issue of adolescent obesity and what to do about it. Through our e-mail listserv that reaches members of the health community, they were asked how bad the epidemic is, what lead young children to these unhealthy weights and if weekly meetings with dieticians and exercise experts would help.

According to Jacob Pattengill, a physical therapist at Select Physical Therapy, "It is imperative our obese youth receive early intervention focused on education directly from a licensed medical professional. This may include practitioners such as a nutritionist, a physician, a psychologist, and a physical therapist. This patient group has a very unique set of medical needs that is effecting their body composition, blood pressure, self esteem, and predisposing them to a plethora of disease processes including hypertension, cardiac disease, arthritis, asthma, sleep apnea, and diabetes. All of these factors must be taken into account and addressed simultaneously for optimal results. Not only are the direct personal consequence of childhood obesity potentially lethal, it is requiring increased focus from your medical professionals and ultimately your premiums as a consumer of medical insurance. This group of our population would benefit from early intervention as many of these symptoms can be altered with better choices regarding exercise, activity, and diet. These are important factors for our country's overall health as obesity is often shaped in the early stages of life."

Darren Harris, health and fitness manager at Saint Francis Medical Center's Fitness Plus said, "I believe that a weekly meeting can greatly improve the chances of a teen returning to a healthy weight. The best way for a program to work for children and adolescents is to involve the parent, since they are the primary source of meals plans. Encouraging activity and healthy eating habits is so important at the pre-adolescent phase because the body type that a child has at that point greatly influences the body weight that they have the rest of their lives. We have started a program that is designed for children who are overweight and obese ages 6-18 and their families."

Raina Childers, a dietitian and the nutrition services coordinator at Southeast Missouri's HealthPoint Fitness, said "Most experts agree that the cause of teen and childhood obesity is multifactorial. But overwhelmingly we look to environment as the primary cause. Lots less physical activity due to increased time in front of televisions, computers, cell phones, and video games for example. It is often during the teen years that "playing" decreases and the interest in technology increases. Physical education has also been significantly reduced in high school to focus on academic priorities. But that is only one side of it. It is around the age of 11-12 that children really begin to have more "food independence." They choose, purchase and eat what they want. Kids today are eating high fat, high sugar foods and beverages in large portions and have amazing access to it all the time.

"The problems they face are many. Emotional and self-esteem issues abound. Their grades suffer. They experience adult like medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 Diabetes, joint pain, depression, sleep apnea and the list goes on.

"Can weekly intervention with health professionals help? I strongly believe yes! The tricky part is having the family (parents, grandparents, siblings or other guardians) involved and committed too. These kids need skills to navigate the unhealthy environment they are growing up in. I think dietitians, fitness professionals and physicians as well as other health professionals are key to helping them develop these necessary skills. However, we can teach and model and empower them toward healthy lifestyle habits but if they go home from a great workout and only have unhealthy options at home it becomes confusing and much more challenging to stick with.

"At HealthPoint Fitness we have a program called PHIT (Promoting Health in Teens) that is just getting ready to begin. It is for kids 13-17 and includes weekly dietitian and personal training time. It does require a physician referral and committed families. We are excited to get it going."

Jamie Market, a dietitian and nutrition counselor at Jackson Healing Arts, said "According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control & Prevention) website, obesity rates among U.S. children have tripled since 1980. Approximately 16% of children are considered obese which is defined as a BMI (Body Mass Index) greater than 95th percentile for age and gender. These statistics are startling because serious health complications are associated with being overweight or obese.

"Children and teens are facing conditions related to obesity like Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol that in past decades affected only adults. Being overweight puts teens at a greater risk for health complications such as heart disease, certain cancers, and sleep apnea which are big risks to carry through life especially when starting at such a young age.

"Studies show that children who are overweight are more likely to be overweight as adults, which means an approach to tackle the American obesity epidemic starts with focusing on overweight children.

"Eating habits and lifestyles begin at a young age by the routines and examples that parents set for their children. Parents may want to set good examples, but unfortunately with busy schedules and tight budgets, convenience often wins out over nutrition when it comes to meal time. Children are raised on highly processed snacks and fast foods which are packed with refined sugars and fat and this is the lifestyle they will most likely continue because it is all they know.

"As a registered dietitian these statistics are upsetting because I know the impact poor nutrition can have on health, and the obesity problem shows that proper nutrition and physical activity are being pushed aside in children and teens. I am actually in the process of working with Jacob Pattengill, a physical therapist at Select Physical Therapy to launch a nutrition & exercise program for children right here in our community to help battle the growing problem of childhood obesity. Other school systems may be different now, but nutrition classes were not a requirement where I went to school, so how are teens supposed to learn about nutrition and health? This is why I believe a program which focuses on improving nutrition and increasing exercise in adolescents could greatly help reduce the rate of obesity in children and teens."

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