Health Column: Pediatrician Says Parental Involvement is Essential to Prevent Childhood Obesity

Eating too much and exercising too little. These habits – increasingly common among children – are contributing to a national obesity epidemic.

“Childhood obesity has become a big problem,” said Dr. Virginia Nagy. As a family practitioner at Lake Regional Clinic-Lake Ozark, Nagy regularly sees the effects of obesity in children.

“I see kids as young as 8 who have developed conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol,” she said. “Previously, these issues were seen only in adults.”

During the past three decades, childhood obesity has more than doubled among adolescents ages 12-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, it has more than tripled for children ages 6-11.

“If a child is overweight at a very young age, they are more likely to be obese as adolescents and adults,” said Nagy, who is board certified in family medicine.

Research has shown that 4 year olds who are obese have a 20 percent chance of being obese as an adult. Among teenagers who are obese, 80 percent are likely to be obese adults.

But, Nagy says small changes can make a big difference.

“When I discuss treatment for obesity in children, the first thing I talk about is modification,” Nagy said. “I do not like the words ‘diet’ or ‘exercise’ because rarely do we stick to them. Instead, I talk with my patients about how to modify their eating and activity.”

According to Nagy, it’s important for families to tackle portion control.

“Unfortunately, restaurants typically give us two, sometimes even three portions, instead of one,” she said.

Because of this, Nagy recommends limiting the number of times you eat out during the week. She also feels it’s important to sit down together at mealtime, rather than in front of the TV or computer.

“Parents need to help their children develop healthy habits from an early age,” she said. “If parents provide healthy food choices and establish routines when their kids are young, they will be more likely to make healthier choices throughout their lives.”

Nagy also says everyone needs at least 30-60 minutes of physical activity each day.

“Activities need to be fun,” Nagy said. “Kids shouldn’t see it as punishment or exercise. Everyone likes to play, so that’s what I tell kids to do – go out and play. Ride a bike. Play basketball. Go for a walk or swim.”

She also is a strong advocate for parental involvement and encourages parents to do activities with their kids.

For children who struggle with weight and self-esteem issues, Nagy recommends the Trim Kids program at Lake Regional Hospital.

“Trim Kids is a great option,” she said. “It focuses on behavior modification and gives kids the tools they need to develop a healthy lifestyle that will last into adulthood.”

Lead by a nurse, a dietitian and an exercise physiologist, Lake Regional’s Trim Kids program teaches kids and their parents a practical approach to weight loss and healthy living by focusing on behavior modification, nutrition and exercise.

The next Trim Kids informational session is Thursday, Feb. 28. The class will meet every Thursday night for nine weeks, March 7-May 2. Enrollment is free, and parents must attend with their children. To learn more about Trim Kids or to enroll your child, call 573-348-8222 or visit lakeregional.com/events.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Nagy, call Lake Regional Clinic-Lake Ozark at 573-365-2318.

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