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Experts say childhood obesity on the rise

March 18, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Years ago, a certain type diabetes was called "adult onset" diabetes because it was triggered by weight gain, and that was seen mostly in adults. Today, because of childhood obesity, it's now just called Type 2 diabetes. And diabetes is just one of the many health complications that can arise from excess weight gain in kids.At pediatric clinics throughout Kaiser Permanente hospitals, doctors noticed their young patients were growing, but not at a normal pace.

"Part of the reason we wanted to do this study is because we have been seeing our patients get heavier and heavier over time," said Dr. Amy Porter. "And our heaviest patients seem to be getting heavier."

So researchers carefully looked at the health records of over 700,000 children in Southern California.

"One of the conclusions of the study was that there was a higher prevalence of extreme obesity at even younger ages than we anticipated," said Dr. Porter.

Dr. Porter says extreme obesity means a child falls into the 99th percentile on the body mass index.

The groups with the highest rates of extreme obesity are teen Latino girls and teen African American boys. Obesity affected more than one out of 10 of these kids, raising the risk for all types of complications.

"Diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, liver problems, joint problems those kinds of things. So all those children are at risk for that," said Dr. Porter.

Dr. Porter told 16-year-old D'Vonte Pullen he had to make healthier choices.

"She told me that I needed to start losing weight now or I'm going to get diabetes or a heart condition when I'm older," said Pullen.

"The longer they stay with these medical complications the harder it is for them to have a long healthy life," said Dr. Porter. "So if you do happen to be extremely obese and get diabetes when you are 15 by the time you are 25 years old you have already had a decade of diabetes."

Pullen just joined the football team and is eating more fruits and veggies.

Dr. Porter says parents should keep fridges full of healthy food. Whatever kids see first shouldn't be chips or junk food. And don't let one member of the family eat sugary snacks but not another. The whole family has to be in on the effort.

Darla Sandoval, 7, is making the change.

"I am eating more veggies and drinking a lot of water and no more TV," said Sandoval.

Another tip for parents is to keep the TV off during dinner. Kids should be engaged during the meal and not get in the habit of mindless snacking. And get them involved in helping to prepare the meal, they'll feel more invested and more likely to eat healthier.