Children Fighting Fat in Akron

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At the YMCA in Green, Ohio …just south of Akron…kids ages 8-13 meet three days a week for Future Fitness Club, a program sponsored by Akron Children's Hospital. The program is geared towards educating the younger or "future" generation about maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and exercise.

CHASE: My name is Chase, I'm 13 years old.
BAKER: Why do you come here?
CHASE: I'm a little oversized for my age so if I could lose weight I'd be a lot happier.

Chase is 5'2 and weighed 157 pounds when he started the program. Dr. Troy Smurawa helped focus Akron Children's Hospital's attention on the issue three years ago with the launch of the Future Fitness Club.

SMURAWA: If a child under 12 is overweight there's probably about a 20 percent chance they will be overweight as an adult. If they are overweight as a teenager it's probably more like an 80 percent chance they will be overweight as an adult.

The key, Smurawa says, is helping kids develop an active lifestyles early on.

SMURAWA: Our focus is more on developing healthy eating styles, healthy living styles. We also really focus on habits of exercise and activity, encourage them to be active find things that they are comfortable with, enjoy being active and know that they can do.

All of this….you might think….kids would learn at home. Unfortunately, parents often are part of the problem..

SMURAWA: Parents often times will use food or sweets, candy, treats as a reward for good behavior so it sets a pattern that kids seek to have those types of things as behavior modification.

Dr. Carolyn Landis, a psychologist at University Hospital's Rainbow Babies facility, points to another way parents send the wrong message.

LANDIS: Research has shown that parents who engage in what we call dis-inhibited eating, that means eating when you're not really hungry large amounts of food, that the kids are actually doing that as well. They are imitating that sort of behavior.

The Future Fitness Club is an eight week program. The department store Kohl's helps subsidize the program so it only costs families about a buck per class.

JAKE: I'm out of breath…

The exercise portion includes obstacle courses, relay races, team tag, jump rope challenges, and swimming.

CHASE: Tuesday is my favorite day, it's when we swim. I like to swim.

Part of the mission is to keep overweight kids from becoming obese because the health problems that ensue can mount up over time. Psychologist Carolyn Landis runs down the list.

LANDIS: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, type II diabetes and there are some issues with their liver, mobility issues as they get older, and there's of course heart issues related to their diet. In terms of psychological we've actually found the quality of life level for morbidly obese children is actually lower than for children with cancer and this is morbidly obese children.

One mother Tina Scofield signed up her eight year-old daughter Riley recently.

TINA: I don't want her to become overweight and stay overweight because kids even already are being mean to her about her weight.

Riley ….like the rest of the kids gets a pre and post fitness assessment. This includes a cardio respiratory test, flexibility check, a modified sit-up and pushup test…and, yes, she gets weighed as well. So far it seems to be rubbing off.

RILEY: If you get at least one hour of exercise a day your heart will be really really good and strong.

A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that obesity programs for children are generally effective when they are comprehensive, that is, when they include counseling about a healthy diet, a physical activity program, goal setting and regular monitoring of the child's results for six months. The main problem is…far too few kids have access to these programs that could help them fight fat.

Kathryn Baker, 90.3.

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