How your pediatrician can help prevent childhood obesity

About 17 percent of children and adolescents between the ages of 2 to 19 years old - or 12.5 million- are considered obese as measured by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey using body mass index.

Statistics show that 15 percent of all Seattle residents are obese while 27 percent of children and 55 percent of adults in south King County are obese. These are very startling statistics which is why addressing childhood obesity is a top priority for us at VMC.

Why should you care about this issue? Obese children are at risk for having high blood pressure and high cholesterol which sets them up for cardiovascular disease later in life. Obesity also increases the risk for impaired glucose tolerance and Type 2 diabetes and this is not all - obese children may also develop health issues related to breathing problems such as sleep apnea and asthma, joint problems, fatty liver disease, and gall bladder disease. The list goes on and on and I didn't even get to the psycho-social factors such as poor self-esteem. So, you can see why this is an issue worthy of our attention!

One of the reasons that I truly enjoy being a pediatrician is that I have the unique opportunity to watch my patients grow and develop from children into young adults.This gives me the chance to discuss health issues such as obesity on a regular basis and help instill healthy lifestyle values such as being active and eating healthy foods. It is much easier to address obesity in our kids if we start addressing the problem early on. If we wait until subsequent health issues appear, the pattern is ingrained and much more difficult to change.

So, how does a physician determine if your child is overweight or obese? When you bring your son or daughter in for a visit your provider should ask what kind of foods they are eating, what beverages they drink daily and what snacks you offer your child. I also like to find out what outdoor activities your child and family is involved in and how many hours your child watches television or plays video or computer games each day. This information is important to develop an overall picture,so to speak, of your child's health index.

When making a change in what yourchild eats or her activity level, it is very important to get theentire family involved. It's likely if your child is tending towardobesity others in the family are as well, and your child will lookto you to start and set the example.

The other important tool we use to diagnosis obesity is body mass index, which is calculated by using the child's height and weight. The BMI gives us an objective way to measure obesity and we also use it to track your child's progress.

If you are concerned that yourfamily may have a problem with obesity or has a hard time stickingto a healthy lifestyle, please make an appointment with yourhealthcare provider! The earlier you address the problem the easierit will be to change.

Callie Byrd, MD, is a pediatrician at Valley Medical Center's Covington Clinic.

Callie Byrd, MD-2