FAIRMONT - "Childhood obesity" has become a buzzword in recent years, and for good reason.
According to April Poolman, family nurse practitioner with Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont, obesity in childhood has risen dramatically in the past 30 years. It leads to serious health issues in childhood, and as those children become adults.
Poolman discussed the topic Thursday night as part of the "Speaking of Health" series put on by the medical center.
Before beginning her presentation, Poolman acknowledged the sensitivity of the subject.
"This is not always an easy subject to approach," she said. "We tend to avoid it because it is a sensitive subject ... we need to stop that."
She went on to tell the group of health care professionals, grandparents, and parents that 16 percent to 33 percent of American children are considered obese, numbers that have doubled and sometimes tripled since their parents were children.
Poolman defined obesity as being above the 95th percentile for weight. Overweight children fall into the 85-95 percentile.
The dangers of obesity in children is sobering.
"Diseases are showing up in children that have previously been found only in adults," Poolman said, naming diabetes, hyperandrogynism, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease (when the children become adults), asthma, sleep apnea and more.
Medication for these diseases largely have never been tested on children.
She also noted the psychological aspects of obesity, ranging from low self-esteem, to depression, to social isolation.
"It is a vicious cycle," she said. "These kids don't want to go out, so they stay in, and gain more weight."
But being obese as a child is not a life sentence.
"It doesn't mean children can never have a healthy weight," Poolman said. "It is never too late."
Her suggestions for working with an obese child are familiar to many: portion control, stopping absent-minded eating, recognizing stress eating, and becoming more active.
She also noted that unlike in adults, strict calorie counting is not recommended.
For those under 7 years old dealing with obesity, practitioners don't even recommend advising those children lose weight - they are simply advised to maintain the child's weight as he or she grows.
For those over 7 years old, a slow weight loss of only 1 pound per month is often suggested.
"These kids didn't get this way overnight, and it could take years to lose the weight," she said.
She suggested parents of normal-weight children not become complacent, however.
"Prevention is the key," she said. "If we start these (healthy habits) when they are babies, they will not have this problem."
Several parents addressed Poolman, one in tears, about the difficulty of finding help for their obese pre-teen children.
The parents reported having taken the children to doctors, doing everything advised, but still finding their efforts were in vain.
Poolman suggested continuing to seek help until the right combination of providers is found.
"You don't quit," she said. "As parents, you don't quit. It is never too late."