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Your Health Matters: Reduce Type 2 Diabetes and Childhood Obesity

June 29, 2011


Something needs to be done about the sharp increase in reported cases of Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents over the last two decades.

The epidemic of childhood obesity and the low level of physical activity among young people are now major contributors to the increase in Type 2 diabetes during childhood and adolescence. The statistics in the Bronx are particularly alarming. Nearly one in three children in Head Start programs is obese, and almost half are either overweight or obese.

Nearly one in four children in public elementary schools is obese, and nearly four in 10 are overweight or obese. About one in six public high school students is obese, and more than one in three is overweight or obese.

Being overweight or obese is unhealthy at any age. In addition to Type 2 diabetes, obese children are at risk of developing other medical conditions, such as hypertension, high cholesterol levels, obstructive sleep apnea, depression, or irregular menstrual cycles, just to name a few. Obese children, moreover, are more likely to become obese adults.

Weight gain occurs when more calories are consumed than are used through physical activity. Therefore, reaching a healthy weight means balancing food intake and physical activity. Eating sensible portions of nutritious foods and exercising regularly are important components of a healthy lifestyle. In the South Bronx, more than 43 percent of public high school students do not exercise at least 20 minutes per day, three days per week, and 59 percent watch TV at least 3 hours per day. About 80 percent of adolescents report eating fewer than five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

In order to prevent a child from developing Type 2 diabetes , prevention of childhood obesity is crucial. In order to achieve a healthy weight, lifestyle modification is key. It is very important that the whole family be involved in making these changes, and not just the concerned child.

“5-2-1-0” is a statewide public education campaign to bring awareness to the daily guidelines for nutrition and physical activity. Its message is simple and clear and represents some of the most important steps families can take to prevent childhood obesity:
5 - Eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day.
2 – Cut screen time to 2 hours or less a day
1 - Participate in at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
0 – Restrict soda and sugar-sweetened juices, including sports and fruit drinks. Instead, drink water and 3-4 servings per day of fat-free or skim milk. These guidelines should also be followed very closely in children who have already been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

At Morris Heights Health Center the pediatricians consistently offer the 5-2-1-0 message to families whose children who are found to be obese or overweight at their yearly physicals. In addition these “at risk” children are referred to a pediatric endocrinologist, a specialist doctor at the center who performs specific testing to screen them for diabetes, pre-diabetes and high cholesterol and works closely with the family in achieving targeted weight loss.

If these children are already diagnosed to have Type 2 diabetes, they are also offered appropriate medical treatment and follow up. Patients also have the option of meeting a nutritionist who can assist the family with portion control and meal planning. In addition these children are referred to the peer-to-peer teen program called G-RAF (Getting Real About Food), which is a fun and interactive series of educational sessions geared towards healthy nutrition and exercise.

“Your Health Matters” is a regular column in the Mount Hope Monitor, written by staff at Morris Heights Health Center (MHHC). For more information, visit www.mhhc.org or call (718) 716-4400.


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