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September 5, 2006 > Tackling a Weighty Problem Childhood Obesity

Tackling a Weighty Problem Childhood Obesity

The number of overweight children in California is on the rise and the statistics are not encouraging.  According to a study released in 2005 by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA), 28 percent of children enrolled in grades 5, 7 and 9 in California in 2004 were overweight.  That’s a six percent increase over the childhood overweight rates reported for 2002.

“In spite of all the media coverage about the problems of childhood obesity, the rates keep going up every year,” says Dr. Barbara Kostick, a family practice physician at Washington Hospital.  “The dangers of being overweight or obese include an increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.  The incidence of Type 2 diabetes among children and teens has skyrocketed, in fact.  Girls who are overweight or obese also face an increased risk of gall stones and ovarian cysts.”

To help parents combat this escalating problem, Kostick and Washington Hospital registered dietitian Lorie Roffelsen, R.D., will be conducting a special Heath & Wellness seminar titled: “Weight Management and Healthy Diet for Children,” on Monday, September 11 from 6 to 8 p.m.  The seminar will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A & B, in the Washington West Building located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. For more information, or to register to attend, please call (800) 963-7070.

Kostick notes that being overweight can affect the proper functioning of every body system.  “Being overweight can cause problems for the liver and cardiovascular system, too,” she says.  “We’re now seeing kids get diseases that used to be seen only in adults.  Plus, overweight children are likely to remain overweight into adulthood and face even more serious health problems.”

The problem cuts across all ethnicities, cultures and economic groups, but some groups are more at risk than others.  The CCPHA findings indicated that Pacific Islanders had the highest percentage of children overweight, at 35.9 percent, followed by Latinos at 35.4 percent.  In general, Kositck says, boys tend to be more overweight than girls. 

“Being overweight is not just the child’s problem,” Roffelsen asserts. “The entire family needs to be involved in developing healthy eating and exercise habits. Exercise and physical activity go hand-in-hand with a healthy diet in creating a healthy lifestyle.  In this seminar, as well as in our one-on-one outpatient counseling with children and their families, we try to help families make good choices about their diet and encourage them to involve the kids in decisions about what to eat.”

Roffelsen and Kostick encourage parents to limit the number of “fast food” meals, as well as the number of prepared, processed foods.  “Fast foods are more calorie-dense than fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” Kostick explains.   “If you eat one fast-food meal a day, that can add 200 calories beyond what you would otherwise consume. That adds up to 6,000 calories per month, which translates to gaining an additional two pounds per month if the calories are not burned up by physical activity.”

 Other suggestions include:

  • Avoid excess snacking between meals.  Even a “healthy” snack such as yogurt can contribute extra calories to your daily intake. 

  • Don’t force your children to “clean their plates.” 

  • Try to have relaxed family meals and eat more slowly.  When meals are rushed, people tend to eat more food before the body has a chance to produce the feeling of being “full.”

  • Discourage the consumption of sodas and other foods and beverages with high sugar content.  Calories from sugar are considered “empty calories” because they are not a source of essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals.

  • Do not use food as a “reward” for good behavior.

  • Pay attention to the size of meal portions, as well as the types of foods. 

  • Present kids with a wide variety of food choices, encouraging them to try new foods as well as re-introducing foods they didn’t like at an earlier age. 

  • Encourage your children to get plenty of exercise.  Make time for family activities where you can be active together.

“Part of the process is educating kids in how to make healthy choices,” Rofflesen says.  “The best way to do that is to eat the same foods as your children, providing a good example.  That doesn’t mean you have to be ‘perfect’ all the time.  You can still have an occasional dessert, but the key is moderation.”

Kostick adds:  “It’s not just the kids who have to change – parents must set the example.  We need to make it easier for our kids to be active by being active with them.  Parents literally have to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.”

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