Ogden pediatrician: Childhood obesity serious

Thursday , July 04, 2013 - 8:17 AM

Jamie Lampros

OGDEN — Every day, Dr. Isabel Cristina Lau encounters children who are obese and living with its related problems.

The Ogden pediatrician said childhood obesity is common and serious and is leading children to be diagnosed with problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease, acid reflux and stretch marks at earlier ages than ever before.

Lau and Ogden Regional Medical Center registered outpatient dietitian Jennifer James spoke about the issue recently during the Ogden Medical Surgical Society Conference. Although both said progress is being made with some changes, childhood obesity continues to increase.

“There are numerous diseases that I recognize when the patient is obese,” Lau said. “Every organ gets affected. One of the organs first affected is the skin. Patients at a young age start to have stretch marks on their abdomen.”

In addition, they can develop acanthosis nigricans, which is a dark coloration of the skin around the neck, underarm and groin, she said.

“The mental and physical damage is enormous,” Lau said. “Obese kids are bullied, depressed and have poor self-esteem. Also, bigger children are getting bigger to the point that 25 percent of adults that are obese were obese before 8 years of age. This is going to increase the price of goods that society has, like clothing, transportation means and office equipment.”

According to a report released in September by the Utah Department of Health, nearly one-fourth of Utah third-graders are at an unhealthy weight. More boys are overweight or obese in every grade, with a dramatic increase between first and fifth grades.

During her presentation at the conference, James focused on the sugar and fat content in an average child’s diet that is typical of what she has seen in her patients. She showed an average day’s menu with the typical fast food and sugary beverages, and it amounted to around one stick of butter fat content equivalent, and almost a cup of sugar from all the sweets and sugary beverages.

“Expand that out to one year, and it equals 157 pounds of sugar and 12.5 gallons of oil, or 121 pounds of butter,” James said.

James also showed a variety of foods that equal 1,500 calories. They included six cases of spinach, 25 small apples or oranges, 50 small cans of V-8 juice, one gallon of 1 percent milk, one slice of carrot cake from The Cheesecake Factory, two cups of jelly beans, one Bloomin’ Onion from The Outback, 12.5 tablespoons of oil, 16 oz. of sweetened condensed milk and six Snickers candy bars.

Both experts said in order for a child to conquer obesity, the entire family has to be supportive.

“Fast food, video games and sugary beverages are not going away, so these things have to be managed better,” James said. “Kids these days often don’t know how to play hopscotch, jump rope or kickball. Then they spend so much time playing video games and not playing outside, they never learn the street games we all played growing up. Would you believe there are elementary schools in other parts of the country that have been built without playgrounds? We adults need to do a better job at raising healthy kids. A 5-year-old can’t buy his own groceries or drive to the fast-food place for lunch. They are a captive audience.”

James said a concerted effort from the community — including food producers and manufacturers, schools, grocery stores, restaurants, law enforcement, higher education, local government and medical facilities — is also necessary in order to help combat the problem.

Lau agreed and said that in a child who is obese, the treatment is multidisciplinary.

“A dietitian, physician, psychologist and physical therapist need to be involved to teach the child and family what is the best choice for them to have (in their normal life),” she said. “This is a serious problem for the child’s health and future. Doing minimal changes in your diet helps decrease body mass index a few points. Like more water in the diet. No soda. Avoid juices … and for readers that own a restaurant, I would encourage them to provide real kid’s portions for kid menus.”

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