Local doctors note increase in child obesity

Society, eating habits to blame for serious health conditions in children

Overweight children are at risk for serious health conditions like type two diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol – all once considered exclusively adult diseases.

Dr. Dolleen Licciardi, of Ormond Pediatrics in Destrehan, said she noticed a dramatic increase in the number of overweight teens and preteens she’s treated over the years.

“I’ve been practicing pediatrics for 20 years and over the last few years I’ve seen an increase in the number of children between the ages of three through 13 who suffer from childhood obesity,” Licciardi said. “We live in a fast pace world now where kids are eating on the go a lot and parents don’t cook healthy meals because of time constraints,” she continued.

Licciardi said being an overweight baby doesn’t mean the baby is healthy.

“Obesity most commonly begins in childhood between the ages of 5 and 6, and during adolescence,” Licciardi said. “Studies have shown that a child who is obese between the ages of 10 and 13 has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult,”

Licciardi said obesity is not considered a disease, so most insurance won’t cover this illness in children.

“Eating a healthy diet starts from birth, it’s more difficult to change a child’s eating habits once they get older and the problems are serious and expensive to treat medically,” she said.

Licciardi says there’s a genetic component to why some kids are overweight, but that doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t monitor what kids eat.

“Louisiana ranks eighth in the nation for obesity,” she said. “Sometimes it runs in the family, in these cases eating a well balance diet is extremely important.”

St. Charles Parish Hospital doctors, V.N. Devarajan an internal medicine doctor specializing in nephrology, and C. Jayakrishnan, a cardiology specialist, encourages parents to change the way children are eating and make sure they get enough exercise.

“There are over 27 million obese kids in our nation,” Jayakrishnan said. “We are facing a major health crisis in this country.

“By the time these children become men and women in their 20’s and 30’s they will be at risk for heart attacks and other life altering illnesses.”

Devarajan says that every area of the body is affected when a child is overweight.

“For example, overweight children can get high blood pressure, which leads to cardiac problems, psychiatric and social problems, the kidneys, lungs, and every single body system is destroyed when a child is too fat,” he said.

But how do you know if your child is overweight? Both doctors suggest using the Body Mass Index Formula.

“The BMI formula uses height and weight measurements to determine if a person is overweight,” Jayakrishana said.

Devarajan says that a BMI of 25 or below indicates a normal, healthy weight. If a child’s BMI is 30 to 35 that’s considered Class I obesity, while 35 to 40 is Class II obesity, and 40 and over exceeds the scale.

“I have seen 10 year old kids with BMI’s of 40, and this can lead to serious problems, like sleep apnea, liver inflammation, which leads to liver disease and gallstone problems,” he said.

Jayakrishnan suggests ways that parents can keep their kids weight under control.

“Cut back on soft drinks, because they’re high in sugar,” he said. “Don’t biggie size foods, at fast food restaurants, know what your kids are eating.”

Jayakrishnan said poor socioeconomics does contribute to childhood obesity.

“Parents get fast foods because they are cheaper than healthy foods can be costly for someone who can’t afford to spend a lot on groceries,” he said. “School diets need to be changed to focus on more health conscious eating.”

According to the National Center for Disease Control, 15% of children and adolescents ages six to 19 were overweight in 2000. That is a 4 percent raise from 1994. The center’s research also concluded that since the 1980’s, the percentage of children who are overweight has nearly tripled, which means about 8 million young American children, almost 15 percent, are overweight.

Healthy lifestyle changes make the difference. Child Care Health and Development suggests these tips for concerned parents.

Avoid falling into some common food/eating behavior traps:

Don’t reward children for good behavior or try to stop bad behavior with sweets or treats. Come up with other solutions to modify their behavior.

– Don’t maintain a clean-plate policy. Be aware of kids’ hunger cues. Even babies who turn away from the bottle or breast send signals that they’re full. If kids are satisfied, don’t force them to continue eating. Reinforce the idea that they should only eat when they’re hungry.

– Don’t talk about “bad foods” or completely eliminate all sweets and favorite snacks from overweight children’s diets. Children may rebel and overeat these forbidden foods outside the home or sneak them in on their own.

Here are some additional recommendations for children of all ages:

Birth to age 1: In addition to it’s many health benefits, breastfeeding may help prevent excessive weight gain. Though the exact mechanism is not known, breastfed babies are more able to control their own intake and follow their own internal hunger cues.

Ages 2 to 6: Start good habits early. Encourage kids’ natural tendency to be active and offer children a variety of healthy foods. It may take 10 or more tries before a child will accept a new food, so don’t give up.

Ages 7 to 12: Encourage children to be physically active every day, whether it’s an organized sports team or a pick-up game of soccer during recess. Keep your kids active at home, too, through everyday activities like walking and playing in the yard. Let them be more involved in making good food choices.

Ages 13 to 17: Teens like fast-food, but try to steer them toward healthier choices like grilled chicken sandwiches, salads, and smaller sizes. Encourage them to be active everyday. If they are not into organized sports, suggest intramural programs, fitness classes such as yoga or pilates, or alternative sport like skateboarding, inline skating, or mountain biking.

– All ages: Cut down on TV, computer, and video game time and discourage eating while watching the tube. often as possible.


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