пятница, 14 сентября 2012 г.

The Young and the obese ; Doctors and nutritionists are calling; obesity an epidemic among teenagers - The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)

The day a fellow student called Teresa Van Allen 'cow woman' wasthe day it hit her: She had to do something.

At 14 years old and 266 pounds, Van Allen was obese and wassetting herself up for a lifetime of health problems, not to mentioncontinued taunting by her peers.

She lost 53 pounds on her own by cutting out candy and carefullywatching her portion sizes. When her weight loss slowed, the DeerPark High School student decided to join TOPS (Take Off PoundsSensibly).

Now 16, Van Allen has since lost 120 pounds, reaching her goalweight of 145 pounds in January.

'Even if it seems like a big sacrifice, it turns out reallygreat,' she says. 'I feel great now.'

Van Allen was one of millions of American young people consideredoverweight or obese, a number that has doubled in the last 20 years.

Currently, more than 15 percent of all 6- to 19-year-olds in theUnited States are classified as obese based on their body massindex, the ratio of weight to height, according to the AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics.

In recent weeks a host of reports has come out concerningchildhood obesity:

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy thaturges pediatricians to track their patients' BMIs, and encourageparents to promote healthy eating and physical activity.

Researchers reported that almost 1 million overweight Americanteens suffer from 'metabolic syndrome,' which puts them at increasedrisk of developing diabetes and heart disease later in life.

A study of Boston schools found that sending home health andfitness report cards to parents might be a tool in battlingchildhood obesity.

Increasingly, doctors, nutritionists and others are termingchildhood obesity an epidemic, one that should be treated as earlyas possible.

'Our philosophy is that you don't teach your babies to brushtheir teeth when they're 12 years old. Why would you (wait to) teachthem about being fit and healthy in a health class when they're 12years old?' says Karen Cowan, the K-12 fitness and healthcoordinator for Spokane Public Schools.

Healthy eating habits can begin as soon as a child starts solidfood - and even earlier.

Studies have shown that children who are breastfed are atdecreased risk of becoming overweight. The new American Academy ofPediatrics guidelines call for pediatricians to 'encourage, supportand protect breastfeeding.'

Once infants move beyond breastmilk or formula, many parentsbegin offering them juice or other sugar-packed beverages throughoutthe day.

'They're such a concentrated source of calories,' says MichelleHagan, nutritionist for the Spokane Regional Health District'sWomen, Infants and Children program. 'The goal is to work with themso they prefer more plain water.'

Between the ages of 6 months and 5 years children should have nomore than 4 to 6 ounces of sugared beverages a day, Hagan says.

And when it comes to feedings of very young children, parentssimply need to relax, the experts say.

'A child, especially under the age of 2, will eat to theirappetite,' Hagan says. 'We as parents tend to get overinvolved inpushing food on kids. ... A parent is responsible for offeringhealthy foods, a child is responsible for deciding how much they eatof it.'

Make sure you have healthy, toddler-friendly snacks on hand solittle ones can make the best choices. Things like celery, carrotsand healthy crackers are good options, says Dr. Bruce Abbotts, apediatrician with the Valley Young People's Clinic.

'Quite a few parents go to quite extensive contortions to get thekid to eat,' Abbotts says. 'They make one thing, they make somethingelse. Most kids will eat enough to grow. They may not eat it at ameal.'

Young children don't need to eat very much, either. For toddlers,a serving size equals a tablespoon for every year of age, Hagansays. 'Our serving sizes have been blown out of proportion,' shesays.

As children get a bit older, they may start wanting to eat forreasons other than hunger (such as boredom). This is a good time tostart telling them simple messages about healthy foods, Hagan says.

Hagan, for example, explains to her 4-1/2-year-old daughter thatmilk is good for her bones and broccoli is good for her eyes.

Just because a child rejects a food once, doesn't mean parentsshould take it off the menu, says Linda Diamond, a pediatricbehavioral health dietitian at Kootenai Medical Center.

When introducing a new food, such as cauliflower, give just aquarter teaspoon of it when they're the hungriest. If the childdoesn't like it, give it another try in a couple of days.

'Sometimes, it takes several times,' Diamond says.

Parents can help their children avoid mindless eating, Abbottssays. Whenever kids reach for a snack or a meal, they should eat itat the table with a full place setting, he says.

'I think that is a big part of the problem for a lot of kids,' hesays. 'They're sitting in front of the TV eating chips or pretzelsor goldfish and they're not hungry.'

If children start becoming overweight as they get older, Diamondhas their parents take a serious look at portion sizes. Kids don'thave to give up their favorite fatty and sweet foods, simply reducethem, she says.

'I would never say to somebody, `You can never have a soda,'' shesays. 'I found that people are able to live with cutting theirservings in half, either in serving size or frequency.'

She follows the same strategy for exercise - or lack of it.

She asks families to calculate how much of a child's time isspent in sedentary activities such as watching TV, playing videogames or going online. She then tells them to cut that time in half(time spent doing homework, of course, is exempt).

Kids may mope for awhile, Diamond says, but eventually they'lldecide to use the extra time to go outside or do something active.

Better yet, the entire family could take that time to go for awalk or a bike ride. If the weather won't cooperate, turn on somemusic and dance around the house, Hagan says.

Family support is essential in helping a child with a weightproblem, Abbotts and others says.

'Really, to be successful at this, it does have to be an entirefamily,' he says. 'It seems like punishment if you do it (just) tothe child.'

Van Allen credits her family with helping her lose so muchweight. In fact, after witnessing her success with TOPS, many of herfamily members decided to join the group with her. Van Allen's 19-year-old sister has lost 70 pounds through the program, she says.

Van Allen, who starts her junior year of high school this fall,doesn't get teased anymore. She can walk up stairs without gettingwinded.

And, best of all for a teenager, she no longer has to acceptbaggy, hand-me-down outfits.

'I don't have to search everywhere and go to old lady stores toget clothes,' Van Allen says.