Preventing obesity in a big way

by Judy Palfrey, MD, FAAP on February 9, 2010

Judith Palfrey

Judy Palfrey, MD, FAAP, has been a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston since 1974. She is a general pediatrician and child advocate. She was chief of Children’s General Pediatrics Division from 1986 to 2008 and currently directs the Children’s International Pediatric Center.

Dr. Palfrey is the new president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which is the nation’s largest pediatric organization, with a membership of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists.

A week or so ago, I heard the story of a mother who was incredibly grateful to her pediatrician. She described her fairly typical family: 2 full-time working parents with 2 children.

Each day, she said, was crammed with rushing here and there with work and school commitments and little time at the end of the day for meal preparation. She described how with all the 21st century pressures, she and her husband were relying increasingly on pizza deliveries and drive-through hamburger stores for their family dinner.

When her pediatrician sat down and alerted her that her little girls’ BMI measurements were creeping up, she put into place several small adjustments: decreasing the size of meal portions, adding fruits and vegetables to meals and snacks, putting water instead of juice in their lunches and watching TV only on the weekends. She said that these changes were really very easy to do.

The next time, this mother brought her children to the pediatrician, he was delighted. The BMI measurements had fallen back to where they were before he had raised the concern. In a family-centered way, he told her how great this was. He wanted her to let him know what she did so he could share the ideas with other families.

The fact that this fairly typical mother is now the nation’s First Lady, Michelle Obama, is a wonderful twist of events. As a public figure, she has studied the current public health data and is alarmed by what is happening to our children and our nation.

O & DsShe sees that 20-30 percent of children are overweight or obese. She sees the toll that overweight and obesity are taking on adults with the high rates of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer.

She is taking her public role seriously and doing everything in her power to harness the strengths in our nation to attack the obesity problem. She is calling on business, government, health care and all citizens to tackle this because the causes are rooted in all aspects of our 21st century lives.

Perhaps as fortunate for us all is that Michelle Obama is also the First Mom. She understands the constraints that everyday families face when they try to live healthy, active lifestyles.

She knows that children often don’t have the choice to run and jump and play. She knows that it is hard to find fresh fruits and vegetables and to keep them handy for lunch and snacks. She knows that we are all bombarded with too much food, too many commercials, too much to do….to much busy-ness.

For the first time in our history, many of our child health problems are coming not from want, but from excess. Modern parenting is finding that delicate balance between too little activity and too much, too little food and too much, too little exposure to the realities of the outside world and too much bombardment with the news and the facts of the day.

Over the coming weeks and months, the First Lady will be leading a major initiative to combat childhood obesity. I had the honor to be on a panel with her and she graciously said, “You in pediatrics have been working on this for a long time.” This is absolutely true.

At Children’s we have been working hard to call attention to these problems and to develop solutions for them. The weeks and months ahead will be truly exciting as our pediatric efforts are bolstered and reinforced by the First Lady and all the partners she will bring to bear to improve the lives of children and families.

Learn more about the First Lady’s initiative – Let’s Move!

Read what Children’s David Ludwig, MD,PhD, thinks about the First Lady’s initiative in this New York Times article.

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