The fat are getting fatter. Obesity in the United States has reached epidemic status, according to Dr. Tom Robinson, director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto.
"Obesity shortens life. This will be the first generation to have a shorter life span than their parents," he said.
The typical overweight adult or child seen in clinics several years ago weighed 20 percent more than the median weight. Now that adult or child is 80 percent heavier than the median, he said
The nationally recognized authority on children's weight said obesity is linked to a dramatic increase in risk factors for cardiovascular disease in children and is responsible for the dramatic increase of Type II diabetes in children. That type of diabetes has become so common among children that it can no longer be called adult-onset diabetes.
Fifteen percent of children in this country are significantly overweight, and that number is expected to double by 2010, Robinson said. The same rate of increase is recorded across all socio-economic groups; however, the percentage in Santa Clara County is already close to 25 percent, he said.
Robinson was one of four speakers at a forum on obesity in children - and what schools can do about it - attended by 200 parents, teachers and school nurses at Graham Middle School in Mountain View last Tuesday. He was joined by Colleen Wilcox, Santa Clara County's superintendent of public instruction; Marjorie Freedman, a professional nutritionist; Rebecca Levin, who discussed a recent Kaiser Family Foundation Bay Area survey of children's weight; and local students, who talked about what they eat and why they eat it.
Robinson said weight-loss programs are more likely to succeed if they are simple ("If you can't count it, you can't change it"), use behaviors that are motivating in themselves (such as popular dances), and based on what motivates the persons who need to adopt new behaviors. In addition, the new behaviors should be "high dosage."
Freedman, the nutritionist, said to initiate change in foods served in schools, parents should take a good look at what's available there - in the regular breakfast and lunch programs, vending machines and school stores, and even refreshments served at special functions and class parties. They should identify all the opportunities for food purchase or consumption on campus. Above all, she said, they should involve the school principal ("or nothing will happen"), teachers, the school nurse, staff and food service personnel. At her daughter's school, "Kids had to be weaned from Fiery Hot Cheetos, and now they're asking for pears and plums," Freedman said.
Teachers and parents at the forum urged Wilcox to influence school boards and administrators to rid their schools of unhealthful foods. The superintendent said the county Office of Education can establish guidelines and encourage school districts to provide more healthful foods to students, but it cannot dictate change. If districts want to make the change together, the county can sponsor an initiative and provide workshops and materials, she said.