Sunday, November 16, 2003

Obesity in kids examined

Doctor says fast-food ads exacerbate trend

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS - Keeping kids away from junk food advertising is one way to curb their appetite for sweet cereals, french fries and greasy hamburgers.

That's what Louis Aronne, an associate professor of medicine at Cornell University Medical Center, told those who were part of a conference Saturday on the causes of and treatments for obesity. The conference was sponsored by the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Aronne said it's difficult to change eating habits once they're established. And once children develop a taste for junk food, they are at risk of becoming obese teens, who often grow into obese adults.

"It's one of our biggest public health problems today, and I think prevention is the key to curbing it," said Aronne, president of the National Obesity Research Association. "One prevention tool would be a ban on advertising junk food to kids. That alone would help, because the advertisers have taken away decisions from parents on what foods kids should eat.

"Could we ever do that? I don't know."

The International Food Information Council has reported that the percentage of overweight children has jumped 50 percent - to 1 in 5 in recent years. That mirrors a rise in the percentage of overweight and obese adults.

People with a Body Mass Index of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight. Those with a Body Mass Index of 30 or more are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The index is a common measure of the ratio of weight to height.

Nationally, 59 percent of adults are overweight. In the Tristate, the percentage of Tristate adults who are overweight has increased from 56 percent to 61 percent since 1999. Twenty-two percent of Tristate adults are considered obese. That percentage hasn't changed since 1999, and matches national statistics.

Advertising restrictions, such as Aronne advocates for junk food, have been mandated in other industries, such as tobacco and alcohol. But Aronne said people think of eating junk food differently than smoking, and that makes such prevention more difficult.

Other ways to prevent obesity in kids include:

• Serving healthy school lunches.

• Making sure students exercise daily in school.

• Making building stairwells attractive places to be so more people will use them instead of elevators.

Dr. Susan L. McElroy, professor of psychiatry and co-director of the psychopharmacology program at the UC Medical Center, talked to the audience of 50 or so doctors and psychologists about recent studies linking obesity to psychological problems like depression and binge eating.

McElroy said obesity is a common problem that complicates the treatment of mental illness. She said between 25 percent and 75 percent of the chronically mentally ill are overweight or obese.

"A lot of obesity is associated with mood and eating disorders," McElroy said. "The two (obesity and mental health issues) overlap and we have to deal with both. The problem is that we don't have enough science to deal with both. I think (research) is really just beginning."

Weighty issues

• Cincinnati has the eighth-highest level of overweight residents per capita in the country, according to the National Weight Report of 1997, the last time the city was included in the report.

• 36 percent of Tristate adults are overweight.

• More Cincinnatians fail to exercise regularly - or at all - compared to the rest of the country.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention



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