Obesity remains tough issue to tackle

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, June 17, 2012

It’s a problem that’s been decades in the making. Childhood obesity has nearly tripled since the 1980s and Mississippi has held the number one spot for seven years running.

     According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010 35.7 percent of American adults were obese.

     State by state, Mississippi ranked number one with an average of 34 percent and Lincoln County was a full two points higher, at a rate of 36.1 percent. Mississippi’s childhood rate was even higher at 40 percent.

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     “We’re seeing it go up every year,” said Brookhaven pediatrician David Braden.

     Braden also said he’s seen an increase in younger patients with metabolic syndrome, which occurs when someone has some combination of diabetes, lipid abnormalities, glucose intolerance and hypertension. Obesity plays a part in all of these diseases, as well as heart disease and other issues.

     “I’ve got patients on blood pressure medicine,” he said. “A 16- or 17-year-old shouldn’t have to do that.”

     Braden couldn’t pinpoint one reason for the increase, but said it was caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, inactivity, nutrition and access to help.

     A child of obese parents has a 50 percent chance of being obese, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and an obese child has an 80 percent chance of being an obese adult.

     With numbers like these, it’s important for kids to learn healthy habits early, said Todd Peavey, director at the King’s Daughter Fitness Center in Brookhaven.

     “Parents should do it with them,” he said. “Become a part of what they’re doing.”

     For Peavey, exercise is a very important component in combating obesity.

     “If you’re exercising, you’ll become more active,” he said. “It will speed your metabolism. You’ll be burning more calories and fat.”

     But getting kids to work out is easier said than done, according to Peavey.

     “You’ve got to make it fun, so they’ll stick with it,” he said. “They don’t care what their heart rate is. They care if it’s fun or not.”

     Peavey said getting kids involved with sports early is one way to get them in the mood to exercise.

     “It starts the habit when they’re young,” he said. “It makes them more fit and active in their lives.”

     The Brookhaven Recreation Department offers all types of sports for kids, including gymnastics, soccer and T-ball. However, Director Terry Reid said it doesn’t matter how active kids are in these programs if they aren’t active at home.

     “We can provide all the exercise we can, but if [the kid] goes home and eats a pizza and plays video games, it takes away all that exercise,” he said.

     Nutrition is also an important factor in fighting obesity. Jeremy Berry, child nutrition director for the Lincoln County School District, said as far as nutrition goes, education is key.

     “You’d be surprised how many people don’t know what some fruits and vegetables are,” he said. “If they don’t know what it is, they’re not going to pick it up.”

     Berry said the LCSD is following the new meal patterns set up by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

     “The new meal patterns continue the many improvements Mississippi Child Nutrition programs have been making over the past several years, including the removal of the kitchen fryers and serving more fresh produce,” he said.

     Both the LCSD and the Brookhaven School District are introducing more whole grains and more fruits and vegetables into their menus, and other changes include smaller portion sizes for younger children and a decrease in the amount of sodium in the food.

     “We want the meals we serve to be as nutritious and appealing as possible,” Berry said. “[We] are working hard to offer delicious choices to meet the nutrition needs of our students.”

     BSD also teaches students about nutrition via a virtual cafe on the district’s nutrition website, OleBrookCafe.com. BSD Child Nutrition Director Tonya McSweyn said the virtual menu allows students to pick and choose what they’d like to eat, and they are able to see the nutritional information for each item.

     Other USDA guidelines include replacing fryers with dual-use ovens, which are used to steam and bake foods and serving only fat-free or 1 percent milk. But Berry said not all the kids are happy with the changes.

     “Some kids want hot dogs,” he said. “But the parents are more accepting.”

     Where parents are concerned, Braden said it’s important to get them involved in their children’s health.

     “The difficulty is in addressing the problem,” Braden said. “There often isn’t any familial support.”

     Braden said another problem is that many insurance companies won’t cover prevention programs.

     “The programs that are most successful have a psychologist, a nutritionist, a physician and a fitness director,” he said. “That takes money. It’s hard to get anyone to fund it.”

     With his own patients, Braden said he does as much as he can. He offers nutritional assessments and exercise plans, but said there is only so much he can do.

     “We try to best we can with limited resources,” he said. “You’d have to dedicate all your time to obesity.”