Pediatric obesity, from global to local

Youth who will live sicker and shorter lives than their parents.

By Michael Huckabee, Ph.D., professor and director of the University of Nebraska Medical Center Division of Physician Assistant Education. Dr. Huckabee has 30 years’ experience as a physician assistant, mostly in rural Nebraska.

We are raising the first generation of youth who will live sicker and shorter lives than their parents, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The global pediatric obesity epidemic is a primary example of why this may be true. Credible research steers us toward solutions on this one. Here’s a sampling of what the world, and Nebraska, are learning about preventing pediatric obesity.

China. Chinese researchers believe that economic expansion and exposure to western influences has led to their upsurge in pediatric obesity, associated with an increase in juvenile type 2 diabetes which has doubled within five years. Little research has been done to assess the population’s health status, and a call is made for more health screenings and lifestyle interventions.

Sweden. More than 200 families are enrolled in a study to determine the earliest changes in children that may be related to obesity. The study uniquely includes a cohort of children who are severely obese compared to a cohort of children who are lean. They are followed with health screenings including body measurements; surveys of diet, exercise and other behaviors; and blood tests measuring various hormones, growth factors, and genetics. The study began in 2010 (with likely 100 more families to be enrolled this year), and the research is already helping determine predictors of childhood diabetes related to obesity.

Central Illinois. It’s no surprise that a home that is secure and without distress leads to improved childhood eating practices rather than emotional eating. Secure parents play an important role as they are flexible in expressing emotions without excess, avoiding home stress. A recent Illinois study found that insecure parents are more likely to suppress their emotions which can trigger intense emotional outbursts. These parents tend to give in to children’s demands for unhealthy snacks in response to distress or bad moods, and they permit increased television viewing. Both are associated with weight gain. On the other hand, a secure home more likely has four or more family meals a week, associated with increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, and less high-calorie foods, all reducing the risk of childhood obesity.

Michigan and Massachusetts. This study continues to fuel the “obesity paradox” – that lower household incomes have more obese children. More than 100,000 families represented, the study found that poorer economic status was associated with children watching more television, having less exercise, and eating more fastfood and less fruits and vegetables.

Omaha. Starting when Omaha only had a half mile of bike lanes, Healthy Kids, Health Communities fostered the development of now 30 miles of bike lanes, bike racks on busses, an urban pocket park for mountain biking, and increased community gardens. Attention has been given to northeast and southeast neighborhoods where the aforementioned obesity paradox is alive and well. There, farmers’ markets brought healthy eating options, and the state’s first USDA-funded WIC Farmer’s Market coupon program served 3,300 families.

Lincoln. Teach a Kid to Fish is a public health initiative in Lincoln which promotes the message of 54321Go!, referring to the goal of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, 4 glasses of water a day, 3 servings of low-fat dairy a day, 2 hours or less of screen time, and 1 hour or more of physical activity each day.

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu and follow us on social media.

First featured on livewellnebraska.com

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Vicky Cerino
UNMC Public Relations
(402) 559-5190