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Modern conveniences make our easier, but they are a major contributor to the increase in child and teen obesity.

Pediatricians and those who work with children around the Verde Valley said they have seen an increase in the number of children who are overweight or obese.

According to the Child Trends Data Bank, in 2004, more than one in six adolescents between the age of 12 to 19 in the United States is overweight.

In 1980 only about 6.5 percent of children ages 6 to 11 were overweight. In 2004 the percentage was 18.8 percent.

For the 12-year-old through 19-year-old age group the percentages were 5 and 17.4 percent, respectively.

Children who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of developing health problems, including Type 2 diabetes.

Not too many years ago Type 2 diabetes was considered an adult disease, but the incidence of children contracting the disease has skyrocketed in recent years, according to Caremark Health. Many consider the phenomenon a rising epidemic. The culprit in several studies is two-fold: An increasingly sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits.

“We’re seeing obesity as a big problem and the growth in childhood Type 2 diabetes is directly related,” Verde Valley Medical Center Dietician Megan Dastrup said. “Our lifestyle is different than it was 10 or 20 years ago.”

A Changing Lifestyle

The introduction of television, computers, hand-held electronic games and video games has kept children inside and inactive, she said. Children sit in front of televisions and watch commercial about food, which triggers the urge to eat.

“A lot of them don’t even realize how much they’re actually eating and just sitting around,” Dastrup said, who also conducts VVMC’s Fit Kids program. The program works with overweight youth on an individual basis to help them become healthier through education and exercise.

Dr. Wendy Tucille said she has seen the trend at her Red Rock Pediatrics office in Cottonwood.

“I haven’t seen much increase in children with diabetes but I have seen an increase in pre-diabetes and obesity, which is a contributing factor,” Tucille said.

In the Sedona area pediatric nurse practitioner Hope Geller said the trend keeps increasing and agrees the more sedentary lifestyle children lead today needs to be turned around.

“What happens to these obese kids — I think the statistics are about one-third of overweight kids are obese — they are not only at risk for diabetes but for cholesterol problems, cardiovascular problems and many other diseases,” Geller said.

Obesity is a set-up for disaster and must be addressed, she said.

The United States, unfortunately, has a culture that exacerbates the problem with fast foods that are high in fats, sugar and calories, and are readily available — quite often right in the family kitchen.

Wealth Brings Girth?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the United States leads the world in the percentage of overweight and obese children and adults.

Geller said first and foremost parents need to get their children outside into the fresh air and sunshine for exercise, especially since many schools have phased out physical education.

“Physical activity is a big help. You don’t have to go out to run for 60 minutes but get them involved in sports like soccer, baseball, tennis, martial arts or swimming. They have fun while they exercise,” Geller said.

A healthy diet also is not difficult. A key is to buy whole, fresh foods and avoid processed foods and those with added sugar. Even apple juice, a staple most families have, in most cases has added sugar. Eating an apple provides something to chew, fiber and less sugar than a glass of apple juice.

Portions have gotten out of hand, Dastrup said. A serving of soda, for example, used to be seven or eight ounces. Today one can get a 64-ounce soda, with all of the attendant sugar.

Diabetes Prevention

Many fast food restaurants are beginning to offer more healthy choices. However the mainstay is still burger and fries, and supersized.

“Not all overweight or obese children have diabetes, but if they don’t make changes they are headed in that direction,” diabetes educator for VVMC Mary May said. She teaches two classes for adults on living well with diabetes and a diabetes prevention class.

Parents who are concerned about their overweight child can watch for signs such as frequent headaches, blurred vision, frequent urination, increased appetite, weight loss or extreme thirst. If suspicious, call a pediatrician.

The steps to help prevent one’s child from developing Type 2 diabetes are basic: Eat a balanced diet, avoid sugary junk foods and soda, and get lots of exercise.

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. For more information visit the National diabetes Education Program at ndep.nih.gov/diabetes/youth.

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