HCN News & Notes

September Is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

SPRINGFIELD — September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and the news isn’t great.

According to the latest data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of children ages 2 to 19 who are obese increased from 14{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} in 1999 to 18.5{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} in 2015 and 1016. In the Pioneer Valley, 25{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of children are considered obese.

“That means they have a body-mass index that puts them at increased risk as they enter adulthood for diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, gallbladder disease, asthma, and bone and joint problems. Already, we are seeing more and more youngsters developing type II diabetes, which is commonly developed by overweight adults,” said Dr. Chrystal Wittcopp, medical director, Baystate General Pediatrics, who oversees the hospital’s Pediatric Weight Management Program at Baystate Children’s Hospital.

“The growing rate of childhood obesity in our country is alarming. Being overweight poses a serious threat to the health of America’s children, and as a society we must make a concerted effort to decrease its prevalence not only in the Springfield area, but across the country,” she added, noting that obesity carries psychosocial consequences that can also hinder these children academically and socially.

Of even greater concern, there was a large increase in obesity — up to 14{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} from 9{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} — in the youngest population of those 2 to 5 years of age.

The good news is that childhood obesity, like many diseases, can be prevented. In honor of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, Baystate Children’s Hospital encourages families to make healthy changes together.

“The severe consequences of obesity underscore the critical importance of children and teens to participate in physical activity and to engage in healthy eating habits,” Wittcopp said. “Childhood obesity is entirely preventable, and it is up to adults to encourage these healthy habits.”

Parents are often the most important role models for children. When they choose to eat right and be physically active, children are more likely to take note and make those same healthy choices. Wittcopp said taking small steps as a family can help children stay at a healthy weight, such as:

• Getting active outdoors by walking around the neighborhood, going on a bike ride, or playing basketball at the park. It is recommended that children and adolescents engage in 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily;

• Limiting screen time spent on the computer, watching television, or playing video games to two hours or less a day; and

• Making healthy meals by buying and serving more vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain foods.

The Pediatric Weight Management Program at Baystate helps children reach a healthy weight that makes him or her feel confident in a positive, shame-free environment. A multi-disciplinary program — including a team of physicians, registered nurses, registered dietitians, a nutritionist, and a social worker — offer children and families resources to promote healthy nutrition, healthy activity, and a healthy lifestyle.

Baystate also partners with the YMCA to offer the MIGHTY Program, which stands for Moving, Improving, and Gaining Health Together. The intensive, six-month group program emphasizes physical activity, nutrition, and change of habits for the entire family, including a free six-month membership to the Springfield, Westfield, and Greenfield YMCAs, where sessions are held.