By Betty Lawrence
This is the second of a two-part series dealing with the epidemic of childhood obesity.
One out of three children today are overweight — a problem that has reached epidemic proportions, according to Dr. Daniel Preudhomme, director of the lipid clinic at Dayton Children’s Medical Center.
And what’s to blame?
Many physicians and nutrition and fitness experts say it is the sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits of children.
Tackling the problem locally are Chris Lugo, a gym teacher at Celina Intermediate School, and Candy Weitz, a Celina schools nurse. They came up with a nutrition and exercise program for sixth-graders at the intermediate school that has proved to be popular with the students.
During the recently concluded nine-week session, 63 students exercised aerobically for 30 minutes three times a week. The program was held before lunch and led by Lugo.
“We worked on cardiovascular exercises, flexibility and muscle strengthening exercises,” Lugo said.
“We also wanted to focus on getting them to eat the fruits and vegetables on their lunch trays, to make better food choices,” Weitz added, “since exercise and healthy eating go hand in hand.”
Students were given points for each fruit and vegetable they ate and at the end of the nine weeks, prizes were given to the girl and boy acquiring the most points.
“We wanted to raise their nutrition levels and thought if we could just get them to eat a healthy lunch, that would be a good start nutritionally to their day,” Weitz said.
Another session will begin next week, Lugo said.
“We felt the program was a success, and if nothing else, it got the kids talking about fruits and vegetables and got them moving,” Weitz said.
The 21st Century Grant program, administered through the Mercer County Educational Service Center for Celina, Parkway and Coldwater schools, has offered after-school activities at all grade levels to help get students moving and eating healthy.
A walking club, aerobics, yoga, an intermural sports program and nutrition and health activities have been available to any student wishing to participate. Yoga currently is offered at Celina High School and the intermural sports program at the Coldwater School District is ongoing throughout the entire school year.
“Response was good,” says program director Cece Wheeler, for the after school walking class held at the beginning of the school year at Celina Middle School. The aerobics classes, held earlier in the school year, also were popular at Celina and Parkway schools.
“We have nutrition and health activities at the elementary grade levels and at each after school program we have snacks that follow the state nutrition guidelines, Wheeler said.
Educational institutions are a great place to instill healthy eating habits and to encourage physical activity, but it takes the entire family to change a lifestyle.
“Turn the television off and send the kids outside to play,” advised Celina pediatrician Dr. Manuel Lugo, who is married to Chris Lugo. “These are little things that can make a big difference.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics says children should watch television no more than two hours a day.
“I see many kids who are watching television five to six hours a day,” Lugo said. “Put on their jackets and get them outside doing something.”
But don’t put your children on a diet, he warns.
Nancy Zwick, a registered dietitian with the Dairy Council Mid East, also says low carbohydrate diets, such as the famous Dr. Atkins Diet, are dangerous for children and adults.
“Following the food pyramid does work. It is sound science and helps everyone live a healthy lifestyle,” she stressed.
Preudhomme, who works with overweight children age 2-17, said he tells parents that structured activities, such as baseball, are not always a good exercise option.
“There may be 20 seconds of excitement, but then you have 10-15 minutes waiting for the ball to be hit,” he said. “The goal is to keep the activity going at least 20 minutes without stopping. I often advise bicycle riding because the heart rate will stay up.”
Aerobic exercises, such as soccer, basketball, swimming and tennis, are good for older children, he says.
Youth should exercise aerobically for 20 minutes at least three times a week, Preudhomme advises, cautioning the severely obese should check with their family physician before embarking on any strenuous exercise program.
Some hospitals have developed programs specifically for overweight children who need to make lifestyle changes, such as the six-month Healthy Eating and Exercise Program for Kids, sponsored by St. Rita’s Medical Center. The program began as a pilot in 2002.
The unique program, for children age 7-17, incorporates healthy eating and exercise. Also, parents are required to attend the weekly sessions along with their child.
“The parents have to help. It is imperative because these kids can’t do it by themselves,” Preudhomme said.
Neither local hospital, Joint Township District Memorial in St. Marys or Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater, offer group programs designed specifically for overweight children.
The hospitals’ dietitians will do outpatient counseling, on a one-on-one basis, when there is a referral by a family physician.
But there are numerous youth activity classes at area fitness facilities.
Strength training and basic nutrition are stressed at a weight-lifting class for youth age 8-12 at Breakaway RecPlex, located south of Celina on U.S. 127.
The five-week class, called Growing Strong, is “very good” for youth, says Breakaway fitness director Tara Riesen, who also offers nutrition counseling at the facility.
“When a child comes in, we weigh them, but we de-emphasize the diet. I don’t want the child to have hangups and they really need the nutrients because they are still growing,” Riesen said.
Echoing the sentiments of health and nutrition experts across the United States, Riesen said better food choices and increased physcial activity are the keys to weight control/loss.