Valley Health Works with Families to Address Childhood Obesity in Holistic Way
Life has undoubtedly become faster-paced and more stressful in the last few decades. This has affected everyone in different ways, but alarmingly, over the last 30 years, the percentage of overweight and obese children in the U.S. has tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Some might think that a heavier child will “grow out of it,” but the CDC finds that obese children are five times as likely as normal-weight children to be overweight or obese as adults. In addition, children, adolescents and young adults are developing obesity-related health issues that were once rarely seen in young people, such as type 2 diabetes, liver disease, high blood pressure and sleep apnea.
Growing up is hard anyway and having serious health conditions only makes it more difficult.
The National Institutes of Health states that being overweight or obese is one of the most common reasons that children and adolescents are teased and excluded from groups at school. Yet, opportunities for physical activity are shrinking, with less free play and physical education in schools, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Studies indicate that active, healthy students are better learners. Research also shows that risky behaviors among the young, such as physical inactivity and unhealthy dietary behaviors, as well as tobacco use, alcohol use and other drug use, are consistently linked to poor grades and test scores and lower educational attainment.
The obesity epidemic has become a major threat to every child’s ability to achieve their full potential and pursue their life’s dreams.
The CDC lists multiple factors that contribute to childhood obesity, including:
Eating and physical activity behaviors
Portion sizes that are too large
Not enough sleep
Negative childhood events
Community and neighborhood design and safety
Some things, such as genetics, obviously can’t be changed, but most of the other factors can be addressed and improved upon. Parents and caregivers have an important role in helping children reach and maintain a healthy weight.
A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that more than half of U.S. children are not getting the recommended amount of weekly physical activity. In fact, five percent of American children are getting little to no daily activity. Current recommendations for children ages 5 to 18 are for 60 minutes of daily activity, 7 days a week. The AAP study also showed that primary school children are getting the least amount of weekly activity compared to older age groups, and overall, females are less active than males. The AAP recommends that exercise should be considered a “vital sign” of health, and activity levels should be included in the conversation families have with their healthcare providers.
Early childhood physical activity is a vital part of developing strength, balance and motor skills that are needed throughout life.
Increasing physical activity and decreasing screen time helps children lose weight and stay fit. Taking walks, riding bikes, jumping rope, playing with the family dog, throwing a ball or frisbee, or even just marching in place, are some simple ways to sneak in an hour of exercise per day. It can be done in short bursts rather than all at once – as long as it all adds up to enough movement throughout the day.
There are new fitness apps to encourage children to be more active, although they are new and as yet unproven. Some parents welcome such tech support, while others think it may be too intrusive.
Improving nutrition in children is a huge factor – such as making sure children eat a nutritious breakfast and offering fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods for meals and snacks. Strive for not having unhealthy food items in the home, such as chips, packaged cookies and candy and sweetened cereals. Nutritious snacks include popcorn, celery with peanut butter, string cheese sticks, Greek yogurt and fruit. Limiting sugary beverages, including fruit juices, and drinking more water, cuts calories and helps the body maintain needed fluid levels.
Valley Health upholds the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that health organizations should take a “team approach” to combat childhood obesity. Valley Health’s integrated care model includes the parents or guardians, along with Pediatric and Family Medicine providers and the Pediatric Behavioral Health Specialists, to address a variety of concerns that affect the health and well-being of children. Working with the child and family, Valley Health providers strive to establish healthy habits during childhood that will hopefully continue into adulthood.
Valley Health providers consider childhood obesity to be a serious issue. Our caregivers work with families on an individual action plan for each child, which includes measuring their height, weight and body mass index routinely to track progress. Valley Health providers recommend recipes for making delicious, healthy snacks and meals for the whole family that are not expensive and are quick to prepare. Behavioral Health Specialists talk with the child and family about setting goals, feeling positive and changing habits. We’re here to support and assist families to make changes to help children to be healthier and more active.
Valley Health – Southside welcomes new patients Monday through Thursday between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. and on Fridays between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. To schedule an appointment, please call 304-529-0645.
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Healthy Vision for Life with Dr. DiStefano
by Dr. Elizabeth DiStefano
You’ve probably heard the saying “the eyes are the window to the soul,” but what about the saying “your eyes are the window to your overall health?” During a comprehensive eye exam your eye doctor can evaluate the health of blood vessels in your retina, which are an excellent predictor of how the blood vessels throughout the rest of your body look. Many systemic diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can be detected by changes in your retinal blood vessels before other symptoms arise. Other vision-threatening conditions, such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, can only be detected during a comprehensive eye exam. Many of these conditions start slowly, with no symptoms, and can cause significant vision loss before you even realize there is a problem. Early detection is vitally important to keep your vision clear and your eyes healthy.
Although children don’t typically have as many health problems as adults, it is equally important for them to have routine eye exams. It is estimated that 80 percent of everything children learn in and out of the classroom is visual. A child who cannot see the board or focus on the small print of their homework can become easily frustrated and distracted, which can lead to bad grades and disciplinary problems at school. Similar to adults, some pediatric vision problems like amblyopia and strabismus, more commonly known as lazy eye, are best treated if they are corrected early, while the child’s vision system is still developing.
Even babies as young as six months can have routine eye exams. These exams are typically covered with Medicaid or other vision insurance plans. For those without insurance who may struggle to afford the cost of a doctor’s visit, ask your provider whether they offer a sliding fee discount program. Programs of this nature are available in the marketplace to support the goal of ensuring that eye care becomes part of an infant wellness regimen for all children.
While vision screenings at the doctor’s office and the Department of Motor Vehicles are great tools to catch some vision problems, they are no substitute for a comprehensive eye exam from your optometrist or ophthalmologist. The American Optometric Association recommends routine exams on the following schedule:
Between six months and one-year-old
At least once between three and five-years-old
Before first grade, then annually until age 18
At least every two years for ages 18 to 64
At least annually over age 65
Please take the time to schedule yourself an appointment today.
Get a Grip on Your Heart Health: Changing Your Habits
Changing your habits can make you healthier
A new report by the American Heart Association states that nearly half of U.S. adults are living with some form of heart or blood vessel disease. Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death for both men and women.
High blood pressure and clogged arteries are common types of heart disease. These usually develop over time as a result of poor lifestyle choices and can result in the development of other serious conditions, leading to misery, sickness and death.
The good news is each of us has the power to improve our cardiovascular health. You just need to know your current health status, work with your doctor, and take steps toward living a healthier lifestyle.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is one of the most treatable conditions, and when addressed early, can prevent other problems from developing, such as strokes, kidney failure and heart failure.
According to AHA, poor diets, lack of exercise, smoking and other bad lifestyle habits cause 90 percent of high blood pressure. By changing these factors, you can dramatically lower your risk of developing high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is called “the silent killer” because it has few if any symptoms. It is recommended that all adults check their blood pressure once or twice a year. The newest guidelines say that a reading of 120/80 or less is considered normal, and 130/80 or above is considered high.
You can have your blood pressure taken by your doctor, at free community health screenings, with tests available at different pharmacies and markets, or by purchasing your own digital blood pressure device to use at home.
Being diagnosed with high blood pressure doesn’t mean you need to take medication right away. You should first make changes for a healthier lifestyle, such as being active at least 30 minutes a day, stopping smoking and shedding excess weight. Even those who are prescribed blood pressure medication should aim for healthier daily habits. Some find they no longer need to take blood pressure medicine once they have implemented healthier habits.
When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys, which keeps you healthier longer.
Coronary Heart Disease
Coronary heart disease, or clogged or hardened arteries, causes 43 percent of cardiovascular deaths in the U.S., according to the AHA report. Damaged and blocked arteries prevent blood from flowing properly to the heart. In the worst cases, blood flow is so weak that it causes a heart attack.
High blood cholesterol contributes to the development of plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that can form plaques that stick to the inner walls of the arteries. When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance of remaining clear of blockages.
Hereditary traits can make some people more vulnerable to developing clogged arteries. For the rest of the population, lifestyle greatly affects risk for arterial disease.
The quality of the food you eat impacts your health and energy. It may take a bit more time and money to purchase fresh, healthy foods and to cook healthy, nutritious meals, but it is a lifetime investment that pays off with feeling better and having a well-functioning body.
The American Heart Association suggests choosing foods low in artery clogging saturated and trans fats. But you shouldn’t avoid all fats – good fats can actually help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Good fats are the unsaturated kind, found in certain cooking oils, fatty fish, seeds, nuts and certain vegetables like avocados.
As part of a healthy diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, nuts, beans and seeds, and try eating some meals during the week without meat. You should limit sugar-sweetened beverages, sodium and red meat. Avoid processed and fried foods, which tend to contain high levels of bad fats, salt and additives. Limiting alcohol use has also shown to be a factor in heart health.
Cholesterol levels can be measured with a simple blood test called a lipid panel. Several things are included in the test: overall cholesterol level, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. Each of these factors plays a role in your risk for heart disease. Younger adults should have the test every five years and men ages 45 to 65 and women ages 55 to 65 should have it every one to two years.
There are several cholesterol-lowering drugs available, and these should be combined with lifestyle changes.
You Can Do It
It may seem a daunting challenge to change how you eat, your activity levels, your weight and to quit using tobacco. However, no matter what your age or current health status, making healthy changes can help you feel better and live longer.
For more information about your heart health, and making lifestyle changes, talk with your primary care provider at Valley Health.
Reviewed by Brett Wellman, FNP-C, Chief Quality Officer and practicing Family Medicine provider for Valley Health Systems, Inc.