Our kids are fat, too?

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 23, 2010

Childhood obesity is a growing issue among America’s children, and Alabama children are no different.

In a report issued by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation titled “Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010,” it stated that 17.9 percent of Alabama children were obese, with Alabama ranking 14th out of the 50 states.

Dr. Gabrielle Baldwin, an Andalusia pediatrician, agrees childhood obesity is a problem.

“Childhood obesity is a growing phenomenon all over the U.S., and rural south Alabama is no different,” she said.

And in her practice the phenomenon is across the board and in both sexes and all ages, she said.

Baldwin said the first step in combating childhood obesity is recognizing a need for a change in lifestyle.

“It’s hard, because we as a society are always on the go,” she said. “Fast food is the No. 1 contributor. We don’t sit around the table anymore.”

Opp City Schools child nutrition director Heather Short agreed.

Short said she thinks the biggest mistake parents make in creating a diet for children is letting time control the decisions when it comes to mealtime choices.

“With the hectic lifestyles of working parents and active children, it is so inviting to run through a fast food drive-thru,” she said. “I know I am guilty of doing it. I think as Americans we have gotten in a rut of making bad food choices, and it is a cycle that needs to be broken for all of us to remain healthy.”

Baldwin said that research shows that just sitting down two or three times a week at a dining room table for a good family meal can dramatically reduce obesity rates.

Baldwin said there’s a lot more benefits to it than just losing weight, too.

“You’re able to connect with your children, get some insight into what’s going on with their lives and have a real conversation,” she said.

Covington County School Child Nutrition Director Carrie Patterson said she does not believe parents intentionally make mistakes in their children’s diets.

“We all want what is best for our children, but we live in such a fast-paced world that we tend to make the fast and easy choice when it comes to our family’s diet,” she said. “With the higher cost of fresh food products, it is also cheaper to choose processed foods, which are higher in calories, sodium and fat.”

Baldwin said that obesity can lead to health problems in children.

“In children, obesity can exacerbate asthma problems, as well as bring on the early onset of juvenile diabetes,” she said. “We also see a lot of (acid) reflux in overweight children, too.”

Baldwin stressed that parents should not encourage dieting in young children.

“It’s not about weight loss when you’re young, it’s about weight management, so they can grow into their adult weight,” she said.

“We do this so we don’t teach children that fad diets are the way to go. It can have long-lasting negative impacts on the way they view things.”

The report also credited the state for setting new nutritional standards for school lunches, breakfasts and snacks that are stricter than current USDA regulations.

The state also changed its standards for competitive foods sold in schools on a la carte lines, vending machines, school stores and through bake sales – initiatives each of the three local school systems have implemented.

Patterson said she feels the system is making progress on educating its students in making the right choices to live a healthy life.

Tomorrow: Overcoming Obesity