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Our Take: Beacon pediatricians discuss childhood obesity

In the News: The American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated its guidelines for treating childhood obesity for the first time in 15 years, emphasizing a need for early and intensive intervention. According to the CDC, obesity affects nearly 15 million children and teenagers in the U.S. and can have serious physical and psychological effects.

Our Take: We sat down with Beacon Medical Group pediatricians Dr. Sandra Morgan and Dr. Emily Kisor — a mother/daughter duo — to discuss childhood obesity and how to prevent and treat it.

What causes childhood obesity?

Dr. Morgan: The concerning combination that leads to childhood obesity is too many calories and not enough exercise. The typical American diet is high in sugar and fat and low in vitamins and nutrients. No single nutrient has been associated with the development of obesity but rather the imbalance of nutrients.

Does genetics play any role, or is it mostly lifestyle?

Dr. Kisor: It is always a combination of genes and lifestyle. Studies have shown that some genes can influence our metabolism and behaviors such as overeating or being sedentary.
We can’t change our genes, but we can counteract them by changes in our lifestyle.

What are some of the short- and long-term health concerns?

Dr. Morgan: In the short term, childhood obesity can lead to fatigue, sleep apnea, shortness of breath with activity and high blood pressure. Psychologically, obesity can lead to low self-esteem, depression and bullying. In the long term, obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, decreased bone strength, difficulties getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy.

Why is it important to begin treating childhood obesity early?

Dr. Kisor: It is important to set healthy family lifestyle patterns early so they can carry through into adulthood. Our hope is that we can prevent some of the potential complications by early screening and education.

What is the best way to prevent childhood obesity?

Dr. Morgan: In our well-child checks, we encourage people to move, to revamp family eating habits and to learn about what a healthy diet is. We also do screening labs when needed to detect early concerns with cholesterol, glucose and liver enzymes.

What role does nutrition play?

Dr. Kisor: Well-balanced nutrition plays a vital role in preventing childhood obesity. Good nutrition can increase energy, improve healing, prevent infection, improve academic performance and improve mood. Eliminating sugary beverages, minimizing fast food and incorporating healthy snacks will help.

How can parents promote good eating habits for their children?

Dr. Morgan: Be a role model! Have the whole family on board with healthy eating. Involve family members in meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking. It helps to plan menus for the week to avoid the tendency to stop and get fast food. We encourage parents to make “bulk” portions of food to put in the freezer for easier dinners. For some children, it helps to make a sticker chart and set positive goals for behavior. We can then reward positive choices with a trip to the park or zoo.

Do you have any other tips for parents? 

Dr. Kisor: Ask your primary care doctor for help. We have resources — including dietitians — that can help guide you, too.

Learn more about nutrition for children and book a doctor’s appointment.