Staging a pre-emptive strike on obesity
LANDSTUHL, Germany — Lt. Col. Joice Carter was in the middle of measuring kids’ heights and weights at a Kaiserslautern area school when an ice cream truck showed up at the curb.
“All the kids just disappeared,” said Carter, a clinical dietician at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. “They all ran to the truck and bought the biggest sundae they could find.”
Carter was collecting the height and weight data to screen children for a new hospital program designed to help children maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The ice cream truck distraction was just another example of how difficult that can be — and one that’s more in the spotlight as obesity looms as a major childhood health risk.
Starting in February, Carter and a team including exercise physiologists and behavioral therapists will launch the new Pediatric Weight Management Clinic at the hospital.
At the beginning, about 10 children and their parents will be involved.
Although the curriculum is still being finalized, Carter said the program would likely include six weeks of classes where participants will learn how to maintain a healthy diet, develop regular exercise habits, lose weight and keep it off. After that, the hospital will offer follow-up series on such topics as healthy cooking and exercise programs.
The new clinic comes at a time when many people in the military community overseas are talking about childhood obesity — just as their counterparts stateside are dealing with the issue.
“Everybody is interested in this subject now,” said Maj. Danelle Frank, chief of medical nutrition therapy at the hospital. “Other communities in Germany are looking into it, and we’re trying to address it in the local community.”
A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, found that 15 percent of school-age children in the United States are seriously overweight. That’s nearly 9 million youths, or three times as many as in 1980.
So far, Carter and Frank have screened 2,200 children in the Kaiserslautern area. They have found more overweight children than even stateside averages.
“There was a feeling that kids in military families would not have such a weight problem, but we found that wasn’t the case,” Carter said.
In fact, military communities throughout the theater have been looking at ways to help.
For example, the Parent-Teacher Association for Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe recently passed a resolution calling for at least 30 minutes a day of physical education in all DODDS schools.
Frank hopes that the Landstuhl program will be another force for change, especially since studies have shown that children who grow up obese face an increased risk of health problems as adults do, such as diabetes, asthma, hypertension. They also face increased risk of psychological problems, such as low self-esteem and depression.
“We’re talking about lifelong health issues,” Frank said. “If you don’t act now, you will be susceptible to disease in all these other areas.”
Among the first to participate in the new clinic is Marcus Thorpe, 17, son of Landstuhl family practice nurse Yarsby Thorpe.
Yarsby Thorpe said her son was targeted for a weight loss program after a routine sports physical showed he was borderline hypertensive and overweight.
The 5-foot-9, 235-pound teen loves to play basketball and football, but that’s where his physical activity ends.
“When that season is over, I cannot motivate him to do anything,” she said. “Maybe if he would hear it from someone else, it would help.”