2010-04-02 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Childhood Obesity And Diabetes
By Rose Moran-Kelly, MSN-FNP-BC

Rockaway Park resident Rose Moran-Kelly is a certified nutritionist who regularly works with children.

Fourteen-year-old Martin S. smiled as he struggled to climb onto the exam table. He and his mother were concerned about a nosebleed that had occurred earlier in the day and worried that this was a serious problem. Martin, a freshman in high school, stood at 5’1” and weighed 257 pounds. During my examination I noted that the skin around Martin’s neck and armpits were thick and scaly. This can be an early symptom that the body is unable to process sugar properly: potentially an early sign of Diabetes. It has been noted that 60-90 percent of children diagnosed with Diabetes will have this symptom. As a nurse practitioner who has worked with adults and children in Emergency Medicine for over 25 years I realized that this nosebleed was probably the least of Martin’s health problems. Recognizing that childhood obes- ity significantly increases the likelihood of Type 2 Diabetes I arranged for Martin to have his blood sugar tested. Upon questioning, Martin’s mom said that no one had tested Martin’s blood sugar despite regular check-ups with his physician.

Martin, like many other children in this country who are obese, is at great risk for many serious illnesses such as Diabetes unless he loses weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the prev- alence of childhood obesity in children ages 6-11 has increased from 7 percent in 1980 to 20 percent in 2008. Type 2 Diabetes, formerly known as Adult On-set Diabetes, is increasingly being diagnosed by primary care providers in children as young as eight years old! Minority children are diagnosed with Diabetes at even higher rates than white children and further studies are needed to identify the cause although poverty, inadequate nutritional education and genetics are thought to place minority children at risk.

Obesity is a problem of families and communities that must be addressed. Michelle Obama’s effort to raise the American consciousness on this issue is welcome and timely. Many good parents lack the nutritional information that is essential to raise healthy children. The CDC offers recommendations such as: 1) increase the availability of healthy foods by having full service grocery stores available, 2) monitor and control vending machine sales in schools, 3) limit advertising of high cal-orie foods that is geared towards children and 4) increase the physical ed- ucation offered in schools with the goal of making everyone an active participant. Every parent should be aware of these recommendations.

This epidemic of childhood obesity can be stopped. This author supports the soda tax that is being explored in the Senate as well as by the Governor. The money raised can be used to educate families on the role diet and exercise play in the development of Diabetes. Opponents, including soda companies and some legislators, believe that this tax unfairly targets those least able to afford an increase in food costs. These lawmakers should consider the cost of caring for their constituents who will suffer from preventable diseases such as Diabetes at increasingly early ages. I believe that those least able to afford an increase in food costs are also least likely to have the resources to handle a chronic disease like diabetes.

I encourage readers to be active and influential in the selection of vending machine snacks placed in schools, in reviewing the physical education requirements of their local schools and in advo- cating for increased hours and choice of activity available to students. I also recommend they support the tax on sug-ar (corn syrup laden) beverages. Most importantly, I wish for parents who have obese children to courageously and honestly confront that fact so that they can address it for their child’s sake. These children are not just “chubby.” Speak to your nurse practitioners, physicians and physician assistants about testing for, and preventing Diabetes so that children like Martin can have lives that do not include amputations and dialysis.

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