UW Health Pediatric Fitness Clinic Featured in New Documentary
Madison, Wisconsin – From the First Lady, to the NFL, and even celebrity chefs, everyone these days seems to be engaged with the issue of pediatric obesity. And with good reason.
Trends over the last few decades are sobering – the prevalence of children who are obese has doubled, while the number of obese adolescents has tripled. There are a multitude of reasons why children are overweight, but the results are the same. Overweight children, defined as a body-mass index (BMI) at or above the 85th percentile, are at a greater risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, orthopedic problems – health issues typically seen only in adults.
To examine the impact and cost of obesity within the U.S., HBO and the Institute of Medicine, in association with the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, created a four-part documentary series titled, “The Weight of the Nation.” Each part in the series features interviews with national experts, and individuals and families struggling with obesity. While the series will air May 14 and 15 on HBO, part three, “Children in Crisis” was screened at a local Madison, Wisconsin theater to an audience of more than 200 attendees.
The episode has strong Madison ties. Among the programs featured was the UW Health Pediatric Fitness Clinic. The clinic is a multidisciplinary clinic for children from ages 5 to 18 who have concerns about their weight, want to improve their fitness or are dealing with medical problems associated with their weight.
“Our goal at the clinic is to be a resource for families where they can learn easy and fun healthy habits for life,” says Randy Clark, manager of the clinic.
It’s a goal embraced by the Guetschow family, one of the families featured in the documentary. In 2009, the Guetschow’s struggled to find physical activities that interested then eleven-year-old Kaelan. “We even tried fencing,” comments Kristen, his mom.
When Kaelan’s weight began creeping up, and test results were suggesting his cholesterol levels were becoming elevated, his pediatrician recommended the UW Health Pediatric Fitness Clinic. There, the team of physicians, nutritionists and exercise physiologists helped Kaelan establish healthy goals.
“They helped me make a plan of what to do and find fun exercises,” says Guetschow.
According to Kaelan’s mother, the team at the clinic helped him figure out how to be healthy, and even helped him discover an activity he really enjoys doing, Ultimate Frisbee. And the results are tangible.
“Seeing the results of his hard work helps motivate him in a way that Mom can’t,” says Kristen.
According to Clark, when kids come to the clinic the goal of clinic staff is to help the kids and family make positive changes and come up with realistic goals based on things kids like to do. And, they never compare kids against other kids.
“We try to be coaches and celebrate successes,” says Clark.
While the Pediatric Fitness staff work hard to help kids be successful, the kids and parents also have to be ready to make change. Yet fewer than 10 percent of parents nationwide actually seek help for their kids.
“It’s a very difficult subject to talk about,” explains Clark. “And, it takes the whole family. You can’t single a child out and put the issue on his or her shoulders.”
He acknowledges that parents have a tremendous responsibility in helping to shape kids’ habits. And sometimes parents don’t always appreciate the impact they have on their child’s life. But often change can be relatively easy.
“Parents can take a look at what the family likes to do and come up with realistic goals as a family – maybe it’s going for a walk after dinner instead of turning on the television,” says Clark. And while frequent discussions related to pediatric obesity point to the sins of having too much screen time, whether television, computers or video games, Clark believes there are some positive uses for technology like the interactive dancing video games.
“Honestly, it’s hard for me to relate to the video generation today,” comments Clark. “I grew up outside playing with neighborhood kids. But, there are ways technology can be used in a positive way. They can be a gateway that helps keep kids active, but still allows the kids to do the things they enjoy. We even use them in the clinic.”
While making lifestyle changes does take effort, families should also remember they don’t need to do it alone. Community resources like the Pediatric Fitness Clinic are there to help. As Kaelan’s father Bill comments, “I would encourage anybody that has access to a resources like [the Pediatric Fitness Clinic] to use it.”
The issue of obesity is incredibly complicated with no simple answers. If you’re interested in watching the HBO series, it will air May 14 and 15 on HBO, and for those who do not have access to the subscription channel, it will be available online at hbo.com beginning May 14.
Date Published: 04/27/2012