Program improving healthy habits one family at a time

Eight-year-old Ramon Sanchez, second from right, throws a touchdown to Diego Barrios, 10, during a friendly game of football skills at a class on child obesity held at Primary Care Partners, 3150 N. Twelvth St., on Wednesday.



According to We Can Mesa County, a 12-ounce serving contains the following number of teaspoons of sugar:

■ Sports drinks, 2 teaspoons

■ Lemonade, 6 1⁄4 teaspoons

■ Orange juice, 7 1⁄2 teaspoons  

■ Sweet tea, 8 1⁄2 teaspoons  

■ Kool-Aid, 9 teaspoons  

■ Cola, 10 1⁄4 teaspoons

■ Fruit punch, 11 1⁄2 teaspoons

■ Root beer, 11 1⁄2 teaspoons

■ Grape juice, 12 teaspoons

■ Orange soda, 13 teaspoons

That baby may be bouncing, but not in a healthy way, according to experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When Junior carries extra baby fat — more than big bones explain — it’s probably time to take a closer look at the child’s diet and exercise, even as early as the “terrible twos.”

Appearance is not the issue. A healthy lifestyle, one that incorporates good nutrition and plenty of exercise, is the best way to head off disease.

Multiple studies show obese children are more prone to develop Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma and sleep apnea.

“In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, nearly 60 percent of overweight children had at least one cardiovascular disease risk factor, while 25 percent of overweight children had two or more risk factors,” the CDC said.

Mesa County continues to search for answers to the problem of overweight and obese children. Roughly 24 percent of area children between the ages of 2 and 14 must cope with a body mass index of 25 or greater, according to the most recent data available from the Mesa County Health Department.

BMI is the ratio of weight to height squared.

“It is often used to assess weight status because it is relatively easy to measure and it correlates with body fat,” the CDC said.

A BMI ratio between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal for adults, though additional factors are considered to determine if a child is obese.

Generally speaking, a 31-inch-tall 2-year-old weighing 29 pounds has a BMI of about 21, well within the range of normal for that age. To be considered obese, a child that height would need to weigh at least 40 pounds. Too many in Mesa County do.

Nationally, about 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese, Health Department spokeswoman Veronica Daehn Harvey wrote in an email.

“In 2008 and 2009, 23.7 percent of children ages 2 to 14 in Mesa County were overweight or obese, compared to 25.8 percent of children ages 2 to 14 statewide,” Harvey wrote. “We view that as not significantly different,” Harvey wrote.

One program under way is designed to combat overweight and obese children by involving the entire family. Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition, also known as We Can Mesa County, has been working with families since October.

The public education outreach program is designed to help children ages 6 to 18 maintain a healthy weight by improving food choices, increasing physical activity and reducing screen time, said Dr. Barbara Zind, the pediatrician who heads the local program.

“The goal is to increase health knowledge, improvement in health-related behaviors and stable body mass index in children,” Zind said.

The program works this way: Children and their families have an appointment with a physician on Wednesdays from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. During the appointment, the physician reviews a healthy habits questionnaire and discusses the changes the family would like to make in the week to come.

After the individual appointment the families meet as a group to learn about healthy eating and exercise, including cooking classes. 

Zind uses motivational interviewing techniques and talks to the families about making small changes over time.

“Maybe a child’s goal is, ‘I’m not going to drink any soda.’ Well, it’s not going to be successful if the family is still buying soda in the house,” Zind said.

The program advocates in favor of consuming five fruits and vegetables a day, spending less than two hours of time in front of the television or computer and engaging in more than one hour of exercise a day. Sweetened beverages are strongly discouraged.

The costs and first year of the program are funded by a grant from the Colorado Cancer, Cardiovascular and Chronic Pulmonary Disease Grant Program. After that, physician third-party billing revenue, also known as health insurance payments, will sustain it, Zind said.

The program is already proving families can make positive changes in their lifestyle when they pull together.

Angel Yeager and her 8-year-old son, Ramon Sanchez, attend regularly. Both said they have increased their intake of fruits and vegetables and reduced time in front of the television.

Yoga and line dancing are among the activities the family enjoys together since starting the program, Ramon said.

“Exercise is fun,” he said.


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