Simple steps to fight childhood obesity in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Missouri - How healthy are your children? Some experts believe you likely have no idea. They said it is part of the reason we are losing battles against childhood obesity.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control indentifies seven winnable battles in health care based on magnitude of the problem and existing abilities to make progress improving outcomes.

One of those battles is obesity. However, when it comes to children, some local experts said pediatricians are often ignoring the most concrete, meaningful measure of health. No matter whom you ask, the results are not good.

"Kids don't go outside"

Every Monday, Eric Williams of Calvary Temple Baptist Church in Kansas City takes a mission trip to Truman Medical Center.

Williams said it is likely the most gut-wrenching part of being a pastor. “I’ve made some of my closest relationships with congregants in times like these,” Williams said.

He shared a story about a former church member named Bertha who was diagnosed with diabetes at a young age.

“She finally passed away,” Williams said. “I think Bertha could have been here today if she had exercised, took care of her body and was in touch with nutrition.”

To that end, Williams’ church opened a wellness center near 30th and Holmes in Kansas City.

“We exercise every time we come here,” said Juan Dimas, one of many children who work out there daily.

Children from midtown run to the center for one reason.

“I want my body to stay healthy,” said Abri Davis, another child who attends the center.

The children play games, study nutrition, learn about fitness machines and use treadmills, taking baby steps toward lasting wellness.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Davis said. “We do exercise. We eat healthy. We drink water. We go to the restroom and Mr. Derek is a great gym teacher.”

Fitness tech Derek Wilson also sees great challenges for children. In parts of Kansas City’s urban core, grocery options are limited and violence prevents safe playgrounds.

“(So kids) don’t come home and go outside and jump rope, relay race up the street anymore,” Wilson said. “They sit in the house on PlayStations, Nintendos, the social networks and all of that.”

Statistics show nearly 17 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are obese, double what existed 30 years ago. Local counties report similar numbers.


"We have a big need for treatment"

“Although some data indicate that this level is remaining constant, it has not gone down any,” said Ann McGrath Davis, Ph.D. “We have a big need for treatment,” Dr. Davis said.

Dr. Davis is a pediatric professor at KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas. She also runs Healthy Hawks, a fitness program that works with families to fight childhood obesity.

“It’s helped me to understand that I should eat more healthy food and that I could get diabetes and heart disease and that there are fun ways to exercise,” said Anatascia Praeds-Feeler, a Healthy Hawks participant.

By age 11, Praeds-Feeler was borderline diabetic.

“She’s obviously overweight,” said Carmen Feeler, Anatascia's mother. “We needed to do something. It wasn’t just about the weight. It was more about the lifestyle change.”

Living on a fixed income limited Feeler’s options to get her daughter on the right track. So, she turned to the free 12-week program. It offers weekly exercise, running, jumping and shows families ways to work out at home.

Healthy Hawks is also a support group. Parents meet with other parents. Teens meet with other teens. Counselors help them all set reasonable goals.

“We don’t ask a family that is eating zero fruits and vegetables a day right now to consume five,” Dr. Davis said. “We ask what’s a reasonable thing you can do to slightly increase your fruits and vegetables as a family? Then we start there.”


"We used to go to McDonald's everyday"

“We used to go to McDonald’s every day after school, which is not good for you,” said Elle Kolkin, a 13-year-old who is a patient at the Weight Management Medical Center in Leawood.

Kolkin is no longer a fast-food junkie, not after watching her father, Craig, lose 118 pounds. He did it through the weight management center in 14 months.

“I think it made (weight loss) easier for (Elle),” Craig Kolkin said. “She saw the excitement and wanted to experience it and has done a beautiful job of taking the diet and making it work for her.”

“I didn’t want to go to high school being one of the bigger girls because it is not fun,” Elle Kolkin said. “I saw my dad do it. So, I knew if he could, I could.”

Her pediatrician, Dr. Monica Pierson, is the metro's only bariatric pediatrician.

“Instead of saying you’re going to leave here with a 1,200 calorie diet or whatever, they are going to focus on certain behavior skills,” Dr. Pierson said.

To get children’s attention, Dr. Pierson charts their body mass indices.

“When they are focusing on that instead of the scales, the scales take care of themselves,” Dr. Pierson said.

Unlike adults, a simple BMI calculation will not tell you if your child is obese, Dr. Pierson said. Instead, using the child’s height and weight, you need to plot a child’s BMI on a bell curve chart. Doctors said one of every three children with BMI’s above the 95th percentile curve suffers elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure.

“It is very important that when your child has his or her annual exam, that his or her physician plots their BMI percentile,” Dr. Davis said. “If they don’t, parents should speak up and advocate for themselves and ask for that.”

Pastor Williams desperately wants more advocates for children in the urban core. Even with a wellness center, Williams knows his reach is limited.

“If mom and dad don’t deal with portion control then the kid, after he or she leaves this environment will go back to the same old thing,” Williams said.

Until things change, he will continue taking his weekly mission trips to the hospital.

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