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Fighting the childhood obesity epidemic
According to a new study, younger generations may be the first to live shorter lives because of obesity. Some 30 percent of American children and adolescents are overweight—and half of them are obese.

“It is alarming that classic adult diseases are becoming more common in children,” says Palmetto Health pediatric nephrologist Dr. Robert Holleman. “The earlier the body is exposed to such conditions the greater the potential for organ injury and long-term health problems. Complicating matters is the fact that overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults.”

Pediatric hypertension and obesity Obese children are at high risk for hypertension or high blood pressure, which is traditionally an “adult” disease. “Historically, children have experienced hypertension as a secondary condition due to kidney problems. Now we see more children with the adult form of hypertension and it is often related to obesity,” says Dr. Holleman.

Hypertension is an extremely aggressive condition that can lead to secondary organ damage targeting the eyes, heart, brain and kidneys. Children with hypertension are at risk as adults for the same complications.

Causes of obesity
The rising rates of pediatric hypertension and obesity are linked to lifestyle. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions because children are less active, do not get enough regular exercise and have an unhealthy diet.

“The increasing number of obese children has changed how we look at hypertension. We can treat blood pressure by treating the obesity,” he says.

As a physician at the Healthy Lifestyle Clinic, coordinated by Palmetto Health and the USC School of Medicine, Dr. Holleman teaches children and families how to make healthy choices about nutrition and physical activity.

“Making healthy choices should be a family affair,” says Dr. Holleman. “Dietary recommendations include eliminating regular sodas and other sugary drinks and emphasizing whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. We strongly encourage daily aerobic activity, 20-30 minutes in duration, and minimizing TV and computer/video game time. Exercise can be a fun family oriented activity and studies have proven the positive impact on obesity, heart health, blood pressure and cholesterol.”

Preventative efforts
It is important that children learn healthy behaviors at a young age. To battle summertime bulge and boredom, parents and caregivers should create an active home environment and healthy eating habits for the whole family.

Obesity increases one’s risk of type 2 diabetes, a chronic disease leading to serious complications including heart disease. Palmetto Health designed Type 2–We’re on to You! to teach fifth graders about how exercise and healthy food choices can keep them healthy and prevent type 2 diabetes. Students’ height, weight, and body mass index (BMI) are assessed at the beginning of the six-week program, with follow-up afterwards to compare results. Parents are encouraged to apply the lessons learned at home, such as offering healthy snacks and exercising with their children.