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Vol. XXII
No. 1
Cover
January/February
2006

In This Issue

SPECIALFEATURES
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Doc's Digest
Medical Advice from Dr. Sayre
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- disclaimer -
Childhood obesity

Part 1 of 2

Can I let you in on a little secret? My nickname when I was 10 years old was "Butterball." I suppose it was a term of endearment, but when my 6th-grade basketball coach coined it, he was being less than sensitive. I really hated being called Butterball! Truth is, though, my nickname was a pretty accurate description. When my feet hit the floor after a rebound, portions of my body kept moving long after my frame had stopped.

A "butterball" body build is becoming increasingly prevalent among our youth. A look at the children in your local homeschool support group will be all that is needed to underscore the scope of the problem; and our obese children are at high risk for becoming obese adults. In fact, 70-80% of obese adolescents will carry their extra weight into their adult years. A full 66% of the adult population is overweight, with nearly a third technically qualifying for the label of obese.

The toll that obesity takes on the lives of the individuals afflicted, as well as on the country as a whole, is not trivial. Obese individuals carry a burden that goes far beyond their extra weight. Those extra pounds result in physical suffering ranging from annoying skin infections to life-threatening heart disease. The psychological impact is equally profound, with the obese individual often suffering from low self-esteem and its attendant psychiatric illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. The impact on our nation was reflected in a study conducted in part by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It estimated that 117 billion dollars per year are spent on illnesses resulting from obesity, and half of those dollars were paid by the United States taxpayer through Medicare and Medicaid expenditures. For other interesting statistics, visit http://www.fitness.gov/resources_factsheet.htm.

What is to blame for our overweight society? Well, one need not have mastered the study of rocket surgery (or is that brain science?) to answer this question. It's "calories in" versus "calories out." If we consume more calories than we burn up, we gain weight. If we consume less calories than we burn up, we lose weight. The equation is simple, but there are so many calorie-rich, great-tasting, easily accessible foods, and too many energy-saving devices in our lives! Our children spend their free time in front of the TV or computer screen instead of playing tag, building forts, or riding their bikes. Snack foods are a daily part of almost everyone's life: those pop-'em-in-the- microwave or eat-them-right-out-of-the-package delicacies that provide immediate gratification for the earliest hunger pang. And the TV offers plenty of provocation for those hunger pangs. How about the visual impact of a steaming double bacon cheeseburger to stimulate the old salivary glands?

So what's a parent to do? Regular meals with the entire family are a good place to start. There are a variety of good reasons for a family to eat together, and one of those is that we tend to eat fewer calories if we sit down at regular intervals and eat a meal, rather than snacking throughout the day as the urge prompts us. The meals that we do eat should be high in fiber and low in saturated fats, with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains occupying the majority of the space on our plates. It's best to eat your largest meal of the day so that there is plenty of time to fully digest it before bedtime. As an aside, I have made it a practice not to eat within a few hours of bedtime, even when I am hungry. Going to bed hungry takes a little will power, but nets great dividends with respect to weight control, as the body is able to spend the night burning excess calories instead of shelving unused energy into fat stores.

We have briefly discussed how to modify the "calories in" side of the equation. In the next issue of the Court Report, I will address some practical ways parents can bolster the "calories out" side of the equation.


About the author

An HSLDA board member since 1997, Dr. Rodger Sayre is a family physician, and his wife Mary is a registered nurse. They live in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, and teach their 11 children at home. Dr. Sayre received his medical degree from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and maintains board certification in family practice. A Geisinger Medical Group associate with a busy practice in Nicholson, Pennsylvania, he is a member of the Christian Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Sports Medicine.