Weight Watching for Kids
We are a state full of chubby youngsters, but that doesn’t have to be. A new program by Nemours aims to help. Prepare for life without apple juice.
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In four months Dylan Jones, 13, of New Castle has made some dramatic lifestyle changes, with benefits that may last well into his adult life. He has morphed himself from a teenager with an emerging weight problem and a so-so interest in sports to a fitness training fanatic. In doing so, he has moved from the group of 77 percent of Delaware youth who do not get enough exercise into the group that is on a healthier course.
“We were members of the Y, but we weren’t very active,” says Eileen Thorp, Dylan’s mom. “Dylan was aging out of middle-school sports and was not very interested in sports in general. Things got to a point where I thought we needed to do something different.”
At Thorp’s suggestion Dylan agreed to try working with a personal trainer at the Y. His initial six-week introductory course led immediately to an intensive 12-week course.
“Our programs focus on cardio or aerobic training, strength training and skills,” says Paul Capodanno, youth wellness director at the Bear-Glasgow Family YMCA. “When Dylan started, he could do about 10 minutes of aerobics. Now he’s way beyond 30 minutes.”
That branch of the Y has a special youth fitness center with junior-sized exercise equipment for kids 8 to 13 years old, so Dylan can work out any time, separate from his training class.
Capodanno says Dylan’s interest in training stems in part from a curiosity about fitness principles and a desire to learn new exercises and techniques. “He’s a great kid to be around because of his interest,” says Capodanno.
While Dylan may have found his path to a healthier lifestyle, Delaware’s kids, and kids nationally, face a challenging environment. Hectic schedules, poor eating habits, changes in school curricula and other factors are leading to unhealthy habits. In addition to under exercising, 36 percent of Delaware’s kids are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.
In response, Nemours Preventive Health Services has launched a campaign to make Delaware’s kids the healthiest in the nation. Its approach to getting there is a program called 5-2-1-Almost None. The name connotes eating at least five fruits and vegetables a day, limiting TV, video game and computer time to two hours, getting at least one hour of physical activity, and taking in almost no sugary drinks.
In addition to this social marketing effort to increase the public’s awareness, Nemours is working with more than 200 organizations to improve eating habits and create more opportunities for physical activity.
Much of the work to tip the scales in favor of healthier kids involves schools, day-care centers and pediatricians. A pilot program in some schools provides 150 minutes of physical activity a week. Nemours has helped day-care centers improve activity and meal programs for 3- to 5-year-olds. And Nemours is pushing pediatricians to use the body mass index as a screening tool for kids as young as 2. (BMI uses height and weight measurements to estimate how much body fat a person has.) “It is useful because our perceptions are changing, and many of us may not recognize when someone is overweight,” says Dr. Karyl Rattay, a senior policy analyst for Nemours Preventive Health Services and a practicing pediatrician.
Overweight kids are at risk for some hefty health problems, including asthma, high blood pressure, depression and certain cancers. But there’s one that rises above the rest.
“We’re seeing a 10-fold increase in Type-II diabetes, which used to be called adult onset diabetes. Now it’s much more common in kids,” Rattay says. “The national Centers for Disease Control estimates that if childhood obesity continues to rise, one in three children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes during his lifetime. And whether you develop diabetes when you’re 10 or 70, you have about 10 to 15 years before you develop kidney failure, blindness or amputations. So if we don’t get things turned around, it’s just a matter of years before we see people in their 20s and 30s with these problems.”
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