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Parents must show way to combat childhood obesity

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Zepeda, April
Friday, June 22, 2012
Parents must show way to combat childhood obesity
By Andrea Brown, Special to The Herald

Dr. Cheryl Beighle admits she's a big failure.

The Everett Clinic pediatrician can combat colic and ward off whooping cough in her young patients, but she's lost the battle against baby fat.

"Childhood obesity is a perplexing epidemic," she said. "I don't have any successes."

When the Silver Lake Clinic practitioner asked some of her colleagues if they had any success with patients, the answer was the same.

Zilch.

"That's the story you need to tell," she said. "It's sad to say,"

The statistics back it up: About 17 percent of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years are obese. The figures double when overweight kids are added to the mix.

Since 1980, obesity among children and adolescents has almost tripled. Ditto for overweight.

The number of obese adults in the U.S. swelled to more than one-third. Another third are overweight.

The DNA of the human race didn't change in the span of a generation. The lifestyle and eating habits of Americans changed.

Yes, there are fitness centers everywhere. Parks with plush ball fields and mega playgrounds. Handy bags of 100-calorie snacks.

But it's not enough. Beighle points the finger at parents.

It starts at home. Kids eat what's in the pantry. And they'll veg out in front of the TV if you let them.

During routine checkups, Beighle shows parents a body mass index age-and-sex based percentile graph that calculates height and weight of where the child is now and is headed.

Kids are often on track to be as obese as their parents.

Beighle tells about a recent 4-year-old patient who weighed 60 pounds.

"That's hugely overweight. Normal is 30 and 40 pounds," she said. "At 4, they are cute and chubby. It translates to 300-pound adults."

It didn't bother the girl's mom.

"I suggested it was a problem and she told me it wasn't," Beighle said. "She said, 'Oh, we're all just big people. It's not a problem in our family.'"

Sure, genes play a role. "There are families where everybody is skinny, and in some families there is a tendency to chunkiness," Beighle said.

Still, that doesn't explain the spread of obesity.

The Department of Health and Human Services website notes that "increases in weight observed in the American population are not correlated with genetics ... Increases in the incidence and prevalence rates of obesity in the U.S. are likely due to behavioral or environmental factors."

That's the problem.

"It's a sore topic. Parents aren't concerned because the kid is just like them," Beighle said. "It's not going to work if parents don't make family changes."

These are basically the same tips that grade-school health teachers have been sounding off for years: Stop "mindless eating." Don't eat in front of the TV. Don't eat in the car. Certainly not in bed.

Have family dinners at the table, so food is infused with conversation.

Eat recommended serving sizes. It's way smaller than you think. Cover half the plate with fruits and vegetables.

Get enough sleep. Eat breakfast. Exercise.

It's really that simple --- and that hard.

Those with good BMI scores are advised to follow suit and forget the Cheetos.

"Just because someone's not overweight is not a reason to give them unhealthy food," Beighle said.