News | Published October 10, 2012

Childhood obesity—an epidemic not to be ignored

Joe is making progress. Although he is still considered overweight, after six months on a prescribed program of behavior and dietary changes, his future looks brighter.

Joe is 14 years old and taking the medication Seroquel for his ADHD. Joe is the only family member who is obese. A half a year ago, his body mass index of 26.9 - 94 percentile, could easily have put him in the ranks of the two million teens in the US with pre-diabetes.

Research has shown that ADHD is a risk factor for obesity, as well as taking certain medications, having inadequate sleep, and being a formula fed baby, among others. Being an obese teen is the single greatest determiner of being an obese adult, so Joe is also at risk for eventually developing:

  • Fatty liver disease
  • Coronary/artery disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • A variety of skin conditions

Joe's mother is very concerned about her son - what parent would not be? Parents, school leaders, and other concerned community members could benefit from an upcoming Family Medicine Seminar Series (FMSS) presentation hosted by Mount Nittany Health that explains some of the causes and treatment for childhood obesity.

Joe's story is included in a presentation, "Managing Pediatric Obesity in the Primary Care Setting," to be given by Marsha Novick, MD, Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital department of pediatrics; division of pediatric multidisciplinary weight loss program. The lecture takes place on Oct. 18 at 6:30 pm at Mount Nittany Medical Center's Galen and Nancy Dreibelbis Auditorium located at 1800 E. Park Ave., State College.

In collaboration with the Penn State College of Medicine Department of Family and Community Medicine, FMSS is open to the public and also serves the purpose of providing continuing education for healthcare providers. The Medical Center designates the activity for a maximum of five AMA PRA Category 1 credits. Healthcare providers may register for the buffet dinner at 6:00 pm and then attend the lecture at 6:30 pm.

Besides the factors described in Joe's case above, Dr. Novick's presentation also highlights the environmental causes of obesity, which are dietary choices and a sedentary lifestyle. Her recommendations for Joe might very well fit a "best practices" approach for parents of overweight and obese children. Some might argue that it is a healthy plan for any child:

  • No sugar-sweetened drinks
  • 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day
  • Decrease "screen time" (including TV, computer and texting) to less than 2 hours per day
  • Have at least one hour of active play a day
  • Take a bagged lunch to school two days a week and have meals at home 5 or 6 times a week
  • Eat breakfast daily

Dr. Novick also recommended that Joe reduce his portion size by 15 percent.

With childhood obesity at an all time high of 30 percent of the population up to the age of 18, consideration of the "built environment" must be looked at as one of the solutions, according to Dr. Novick.

The built environment means human-made resources, which affect children and their behaviors. Her recommendations include:

  • More physical education classes in schools
  • Healthier meals in the cafeteria
  • Candy and soda replaced with water and healthy snacks in vending machines
  • Building playgrounds and schools where children have access through walking
  • Regulate the food marketing to children, especially on TV

It also appears that babies who are breastfed have a huge advantage over formula-fed babies, so another important recommendation is for a full 12 months of breastfeeding as a deterrent for childhood obesity, which leads to adult obesity.

For more information, visit For information on FMSS or to register, contact or call 814.234.6738.