Monday, November 14, 2011

Preventing Childhood Obesity

Jenna Boundy, PT '12

I had the wonderful opportunity to complete a clinical internship at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. The facility provided a healthy lifestyles clinic where a physical therapist, physician, psychologist and dietician collaborate to provide care for children who are overweight and/or obese. Two of our patients were 10 and 11 year-old sisters. Each weighed around 170 pounds and showed early signs of Type II diabetes.

After my visit with these young girls, I wondered about the future health struggles they will endure over their lifetimes if they do not make changes early. Not yet teenagers, they may have to worry about multiple daily insulin shots. By age 40, they may face peripheral neuropathy, blindness or amputation.

I give a lot of credit to the healthy lifestyles clinic to help overweight/obese children and their families adopt  healthy behaviors. Unfortunately, we are not promoting prevention of childhood obesity at early ages. Obesity at any age can cause cardiovascular disease, many forms of cancer, Type II diabetes and hypertension, all of which will greatly increase medical costs. Being an advocate and a positive role model for your own children and the children in our community is essential. It is the only way we will create change and reduce the obesity epidemic.

Since, 1980 childhood obesity rates have tripled. Currently, 17 percent of children ages 2-19 are obese nationwide ( Many overweight children often are not given the opportunity to develop a lifestyle of balanced, healthy meals and physical activity that they enjoy. There are many reasons and barriers why obesity levels have risen over the past 30 years. We can blame it on an abundance of processed foods, a decrease in the physical activity provided in our schools, the increase in screen time and prevalence of sedentary jobs, increase in the cost of food, the decreased time we have to be active and cook healthy meals. The list goes on. The great thing is we have control to solve some of the issues which have led to the high obesity rates, while others provide opportunity for adaption.

Here are some tips to help build a well-rounded healthy lifestyle for you and your family.

Instead of watching TV every night, go for a family walk. You can always record or watch your show online later. If you live in a neighborhood that is not conducive for family walks, ride your bikes or drive to a school track for some quality exercise time.

Take the time to cook a nutritious meal. Many websites offer healthy, low-cost recipes that are easy to fix. If you don’t have access to a computer, use the local public library’s computers or check out a cookbook.

Sit down as a family for dinner time. Multiple studies have shown that eating together as a family not only decreases obesity rates, but can also build a positive support system.

Limit screen time (TV and computers) to less than 1 hour per day. Evidence shows that increased screen time increases the risk of obesity.

Decrease the amount of time you sit at work. Stand up to do some of your work and walk during your breaks and lunch.

Make a contract. Contracts make us accountable for our actions. As a family, sign contracts stating all the realistic changes you want to make in your life.

Create a reward system. A great family motivator may be a visit to a water park, a family hike or a day trip at the beach. All of these activities are fun and promote a continuation of physical activity.

With the new school year starting, I challenge you to make healthy changes in your life. Not only will you be happier with yourself, you’ll be a great role model for your family and our community. Become a catalyst that will empower others to make changes and decrease the risk of obesity. Just remember to make little changes every day, create realistic goals and be accountable for your actions. Be the change!

Boundy, PT '12 graduated with a doctorate in the physical therapy. After graduation, she plans to work in the realm of orthopaedics and hopes one day to provide low-cost preventive services that will reduce the risk of childhood and adult obesity.

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