The Obesity Epidemic: A 13-year-old girl's struggle -- Part 2

By: Erin Logan Email
By: Erin Logan Email

It's scary, but true. For the first time ever, parents may outlive their children. Experts say 32% of Americans are obese, while 18% of children are labeled obese.

People as young as college age are now getting gastric bypass surgery.

Doctors say if adults are obese they need to educate themselves on how to eat properly and be motivated to exercise at least three to four days a week. If it's kids we're dealing with, several experts say without parental support these children are in big trouble.

For the past year, making meals together has become a time for the Gonzalez's to bond and discuss their new, healthy way of living.

Thirteen year-old Michelle Gonzalez says, “I'm taking charge of my life and trying to turn it around.”

Michelle admits she's tried to lose the 100 pounds doctors told her to take off, but she's failed.

Her dad, Miguel Gonzalez, recent hospital scare with diabetes forced him to lose weight and change his life around. This made Michelle motivated to not waste another day.

She says, “A lot of kids are overweight. They need help because they could be dying a really slow death and they don't even know it.”

Dr. John Hill, a pediatrician and sports medicine expert in Denver says Michelle's motivational story should be shared with all kids for that reason.

Hill says, “You're having children not even in high school showing signs of coronary artery disease.”

Several doctors and even school administrators say a big part of the problem, is kids don't have help like Michelle does.

Dr. Mary Jo Meier at St. Joe Regional Medical Center says, “You go into the schools and you see so many overweight children and I see it in my office too.”

Meier says other factors in the obesity epidemic are parents too are overweight, kids are choosing technology over physical activities, they're following poor eating habits set forth by family, and they're not sure what to eat or how much.

Clinical Dietician, Stephanie Malley says moderation and motivation work wonders.

Michelle says, “I'm starting soccer and I might be doing color guard if I make the tryouts, and I'm going to do summer gym.”

Malley says Michelle's enthusiasm to try more activities is a great answer.

“The more muscle you have, the more you burn off. Following a smaller portion for each of the food groups is also a great idea," explains Malley.

She says choosing whole grains over foods like white bread is very important, along with eating well balanced, frequent meals.

“Eat a fruit, a vegetable, a protein or a starch," encourages Malley.

Michelle says, “I'll have my sandwich, granola bar, water, and fruit.”

Michelle also adds a yogurt in her daily lunch.

Doctors and nutritionists say what’s missing from many kids' meals is frequency. Consuming a lot of food at once, than waiting hours to eat again, can cause problems and eventually lead to overeating.

Dr. Meier says, “You eat before you go to school, you don't eat again until lunch time -- where sometimes it's 10:30 or one in the afternoon.”

Malley says, “We can't have kids going back and forth to their locker so it does get harder to have a snack in between.”

Michelle admits she's starving come lunch time, so are her friends.

Her principal at Schmucker Middle School, Janet Scott, says she can tell by their eating habits.

Scott says, “What I see is a lot of overload because it's self serve.”

What worries Mrs. Scott, a fitness and health fanatic, is the students overloading on all the wrong foods, mostly junk.

Scott says, “I would take out the vending machines completely. I would definitely try to revamp my food service and work on portion control. What's one portion, and what do we allow students to eat?”

Scott says some steps have already been taken, “Last year, kids were bringing in pop, soda, and energy drinks. This year, they totally banned those.”

She is also very impressed with the wellness classes offered to students -- it's not just gym class.

“Just the awareness the children get in health is much better than when I was in school," Scott says.
If Mrs. Scott, doctors and other parents could do something in the short term, it's getting kids away from all this new technology that requires no movement.

Mr. Gonzalez took charge and now enjoys playing the Nintendo WII with his girls.

Dr. Hill says, “This is an excellent idea and should be encouraged. Anyway you can get a child to move is wonderful.”

All the experts say you can't focus on exercise and diet alone -- both burn the fat and calories. Michelle is on the right track, shooting for two pounds a week.

Malley says, “Just like everyone said if it was easy then everyone would be thin.”

She also tells people to remember you are allowed to cheat once in a while.

She says, “If you set yourself up, like you can never have those food items, then you're going to crave them.”

Malley and Meier say more families should follow the Gonalez’s example.

Meier encourages parents to get the children involved with the shopping.

Michelle says, “It's hard, but just to be healthy again is worthwhile.”

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