The Obesity Epidemic: A 13-year-old girl's struggle

By: Erin Logan Email
By: Erin Logan Email

For the first time in history, parents may outlive their children.

Obesity is the second leading cause of death after smoking. Experts say 32 percent of Americans are obese. Eighteen percent of children are labeled obese.

Those numbers have almost tripled in the last 20 years. Doctors are worried that if families don't start working together now, their time together will be cut short.

Part One: A 13-year-old girl's struggle
May 19, 2009

Thirteen-year-old Michelle Gonzales shared her personal story with NewsCenter 16. Doctors told her she had to lose an excessive amount of weight. A recent wake up call is all the motivation she needed.

As she looks back at her childhood years, Michelle is reminded of her struggle with weight. She and her family know she's not alone.

"I just want to warn kids that their time could be limited out there," Michelle says.

She's not trying to scare you. It's the truth. Doctors and even school administrators are worried.

"It's an epidemic. It truly is," admits Dr. MaryJo Meier at the St. Joe Regional Medical Center. "We've got huge numbers of kids. It's overwhelming."

"I think it's male and female. I think we have issues," adds Janet Scott, principal at Schmucker Middle School.

"We are seeing kids in elementary school that already have an impact of type 2 diabetes and hypertension," explains Dr. John Hill, a pediatrician and sports medicine expert at the University of Colorado. "By the time they get to high school, that is where they're starting to consider gastric bypass."

Hill recently presented that information to a crowd in South Bend. They were stunned, and so was Michelle.

"I really don't want to be in the hospital with my family looking at me that way, so I really need to lose weight," she says.

Diabetes runs in the family. Her dad Miguel recently had a scare and was in the hospital.

"I used to be chubby," Miguel admits.

Since that time, he has lost 60 pounds and changed his lifestyle around.

Michelle says doctors also told her some information that she can't stop thinking about. She has more weight to lose than her dad did.

"I think it was like 100 [pounds]," Michelle reveals.

This certainly puts Michelle in the obese category.

If your body mass index is over 30, you are considered obese, and greater than 25 means you are overweight.

Body mass index (BMI) is a number calculated from a person's weight and height. It provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people.

Doctors say it is important to focus on this number because of health risks such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, and others.

Not to mention, the emotional effects.

"It's just really hard because sometimes you get made fun of, and it really hurts, but they don't care because they're thin," Michelle explains.

Michelle says her friends at Schmucker Middle School have always accepted her, but she wishes she were in their shoes.

"They have all these chips and junk food, and I'll have my sandwich and my granola bar, my water, and my fruit," she says.

What really hurts Michelle is not being able to enjoy going shopping with all her friends and trying on clothes.

"It's really hard knowing you can't have all the clothes because you're too big for them," she admits.

Michelle says her weight is often on her mind. "I'll be doing homework and I'll be like, 'You have to go outside, you have to do some exercise,'" she reveals.

As a result, she has decided to focus on overall well-being by trying to eat healthy, exercise, do well at school, and enjoy her down time.

"My cousins say, 'Oh yeah, high school's really hard,' and I was like, oh, well I don't want my weight to be one of the problems," Michelle explains.

What Michelle does have working in her favor is family.

"She's got our support in any way," Miguel tells us.

Unfortunately, many people don't have such strong support systems.

Dr. Meier explains that she will make appointments for children with dieticians, but that the appointments are often not kept. "My mom was busy. We didn't have a ride," are some of the excuses she hears.

Schools often see the same pattern.

"A lot of our kids are on their own and eating convenience foods, packaged foods, making their own meals," Principal Scott tells us.

Besides poor diet, other noted causes of obesity are the obvious. From television to texting, kids and teens are choosing technology over physical activity.

"They go on Facebook and MySpace, and Facebook is really addicting," Michelle admits.

"The average girl who spends two hours in front of a TV has a 23-percent chance of becoming obese," reveals Dr. Hill.

Michelle wants others to listen, take action, and never have to struggle like she has. Now, she is trying to erase the word "struggle" from her vocabulary, and instead think about success.

If a child is obese or overweight, doctors say the majority of the time the parents are as well. The kids are picking up on bad habits.

Doctors and nutritionists say many people are confused about what they should eat, and how much is a healthy amount.

For healthy eating tips, click the document link at the top of this story.

In part two of this series, which will air Wednesday night, we will take a look at ways to change unhealthy lifestyles and even stop problems from ever starting.

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