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Parents might not notice kids' obesity

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Sha'Ariel Jones is not that heavy, but it's enough to get her mother's attention.

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Research Assistant Amber Smith does a Pulse Wave Velocity Test on Sha'Ariel Jones, 8, at MCG's Georgia Prevention Institute in Augusta. The test is used to meausure arterial stiffness which can contribute to high blood pressure and other ailments.   Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Research Assistant Amber Smith does a Pulse Wave Velocity Test on Sha'Ariel Jones, 8, at MCG's Georgia Prevention Institute in Augusta. The test is used to meausure arterial stiffness which can contribute to high blood pressure and other ailments.

"It's getting to be a concern because she is not at the normal weight for her age," Detrice Jones said. She put the 8-year-old Augusta girl on a stricter diet, cutting out sugar and limiting portion sizes.

Unfortunately, not enough parents are following Jones' lead. A recent poll by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that while 80 percent recognized childhood obesity as a significant problem for the U.S., 84 percent of parents polled said their child was at a healthy weight.

That appears unlikely when about a third of children are overweight and obese, said Jeffrey Levi, the executive director of the trust.

Pediatrician Dr. Reda W. Bassali sees it all the time at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.

"There are many studies that showed that what is an ideal weight in the eyes of the parent is usually much different than reality," he said.

This was brought home to Mary Beth Arnold, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at University Hospital, when she saw an 11-year-old patient who was already 200 pounds. The child had been off the growth charts for three years, she said.

"I think part (of the problem) is the medical profession," she said. "We've got to just flat out say, 'This is not good for your health,' especially with children. That is what is just really worrying me."

Even when pediatricians try to intervene, it doesn't stop the child from packing on more pounds, Bassali said.

"I see it in my notes from year to year and they still gain weight," he said. "It's not an easy intervention."

Part of the problem is no one wants to pay for an extensive, multidisciplinary approach, Bassali said.

The consequences are growing, especially in the South. Georgia has the second-highest childhood obesity rate in the country, behind only Mississippi, at 21 percent, according to the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health.

Those extra pounds could already be having an impact on children's cardiovascular systems, said Dr. Catherine L. Davis, a researcher at the Georgia Prevention Institute at MCG. In overweight children as young as 8 years old, higher body fat correlated with higher arterial stiffness, as did lower levels of fitness, she said. It can be hard for parents, who don't want to stigmatize their child with the obese or overweight label, Davis said.

"Another factor, I think, that makes it difficult for people to identify whether their child is overweight or not is that it is so common that their child doesn't look any different than the other kids in the class," she said. "At this point, in some of the schools, half the kids are overweight or obese."

Those children might already be suffering the health effects, Davis said.

"Ignoring the problem is a problem because it is not just about stigma or social status or looks, it's affecting these kids' bodies in really harmful ways,' she said.

Davis is studying children in after-school programs, some who race around in a gym and others who do activities such as board games and art, to see whether she can isolate the effects of exercise on these children and correlate it with academic performance and cognition.

"If that's a real connection, then the schools will become interested in investing in the children's health," Davis said. "I'm trying to get to their bottom line. They don't have money to throw around on things other than those achievement scores. ... But if I can show that it makes a difference in how these kids do on their achievement tests, then they'll pay attention."

The series

Today's story is part of an occasional series in The Augusta Chronicle on obesity, healthy eating, exercise and living better.

How the states rank

Both Georgia and South Carolina rank fairly high in terms of childhood obesity, according to the National Survey of Children's Health conducted in 2007, the latest year available. Georgia is second in the country, behind Misssissippi, with 21.3 percent of its children obese; South Carolina is ranked 22nd, at 15.3 percent obesity among children. Overall, however, South Carolina ranks ninth-most obese with an adult obesity of rate of 29.9 percent vs. Georgia at No. 17, with an adult obesity rate of 28.1 percent, according to a recent report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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3g 07/10/10 - 07:13 am
YES Mrs. Jones , fantastic

YES Mrs. Jones , fantastic move to eliminate sugar from your childs diet , just make sure not to replace it with artificial sweeteners which are worse for health . The path to ending obesity starts with natural/organic/farm-raised fruits , veggies and small quanities of meats which are raised with care and love , our pathetic factory-style system of raising animals in a prison environment and feeding them with corn products to fatten them up ( none of them eat corn naturally ) and physically and emotionaly abusing them before slaughter leads to an end product which harms our health . Pay CLOSE attention to ingredient lists on food products , my 2 rules are - if it was'nt on the planet 10,000 years ago , and you cannot pronounce the words , don't eat it .

edwardc 07/10/10 - 07:18 am
From the sublime to the

From the sublime to the ridiculous. No wonder health care costs are bankrupting this country. You don't really need a doctor or an expensive medical test to tell you that you are overweight. Cut out the sugar and especially soda.

CATFISHSTEW 07/10/10 - 07:42 am
You can't do this alone..It

You can't do this alone..It needs to start with the parents at home feeding these kids..That 200lb 11 year old Ms Arnold mentioned..I bet there are Parents in that home that are 250+ eating the same unhealthy foods. It's no wonder they don't notice.

RushLimbuttbubba 07/10/10 - 08:02 am
Miss Amber Smith looks like

Miss Amber Smith looks like she takes care of herself...keep up the good work!

WW1949 07/10/10 - 08:33 am
Rush, she sure does.

Rush, she sure does.

corgimom 07/10/10 - 10:37 am
The obese kids come to school

The obese kids come to school not with a Baggie full of chips, but with a full bag of chips. And they bring sugary drinks for snack.

It has to do with issues of the parents.

Just My Opinion
Just My Opinion 07/10/10 - 01:35 pm
LOL! Rush and WW, I just KNEW

LOL! Rush and WW, I just KNEW that it wouldn't take long for someone on here to voice their appreciation for Miss Amber Smith! I knew the article wasn't about her, that's for sure. But, back to maturity....yeah, this is a problem and people are correct in that it starts at home.

burninater 07/10/10 - 02:43 pm
Gluttony is a sin. It's bad

Gluttony is a sin. It's bad enough that adults are engaging in this sinful behavior, but now we are allowing them to indoctrinate their children into their sinful lifestyle choice. Even worse, they are allowed to flaunt their gluttony in public, forcing me to deal with embarrasing questions from my children if I don't cover their eyes fast enough. They should show respect for the majority of Americans that don't engage in their sinful lifestyle choice and keep it in the bedroom. And don't get me wrong, I don't hate gluttons, some of my best friends are obese.

soldout 07/11/10 - 12:36 am
3G; good comments and info

3G; good comments and info

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