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The Childhood Obesity Epidemic: SouthCoast Health Pediatrician and Dietitian Answer Common Questions

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Nearly one in three children ages two through 12 in the United States are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for serious health problems. In honor of Childhood Obesity Month, SouthCoast Health Pediatrician Dr. Amanda Hendricks and Dietitian Elizabeth Hesley are answering some of the most common and pressing questions about this topic.

  1. One in 3 children in the US are overweight or obese. Why do you think this is?

Elizabeth Hesley: Many factors have contributed to the increased number of children who struggle with being overweight or obese. Environmental factors play a large role, such as: type and amount of food consumed by the child and parents/family, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages (like soda and sweet tea), activity level, amount of time spent behind a screen (tv, computer, or phone screen), eating at restaurants or fast food more than once a week, and using food as a reward or punishment. Children may also use food as an emotional comfort. They comfort themselves with food instead of dealing with the underlying issue which may be too difficult for them to handle.

  1.  How does obesity negatively affect children?

Dr. Amanda Hendricks: An overweight or obese child has a higher risk of many serious medical problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and joint problems, as well as self-esteem issues related to overweight.

       2. What are the most important things kids need to be eating? What are the worst things they could be eating?  

Elizabeth Hesley: I always emphasize fruits and non-starchy vegetables into my education. Most children and adults are lacking in these important food groups. Fruits and non-starchy vegetables are low in: calories, fat, salt, and added sugar. Also, they are high in fiber which helps keep us fuller for longer and vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. Eat a variety of fruits and non-starchy vegetable in different colors to maximize the vitamins and minerals. I encourage all patients (pediatric or adult) to avoid sugar sweetened beverages (soda and sweet tea) and fried/fast food. These types of food provide extra calories, fat, sugar, and sodium.

       3. What are some tips for packing healthy lunches for school and having your children lead active lifestyles while at school?

Elizabeth Hesley: Incorporate foods from different food groups when packing your child’s lunch. Include one food from the following: protein (examples: peanut butter, turkey, chicken, tuna, nuts, ham, tofu), whole grain (examples: whole grain bread, rice, pitas, crackers), fruit (apple, orange, banana, pineapple, watermelon, berries, etc.), non-starchy vegetable (carrots, cucumbers, radishes, celery, bell peppers, etc.), and dairy (low fat/fat free yogurt, cheese, or milk). Including foods from different food groups and different colors of fruits and vegetables will insure your child gets a variety of vitamins and minerals. Activities: Encourage your child to be active during recess or gym by participating in organized sports or starting their own game with friends and classmates. Physical activity can be as simple as walking around the playground and talking to friends. 

       4. What are your top tips for parents to prevent obesity?

Dr. Amanda Hendricks: Parents control what is available for kids to eat at home. Make healthy snacks readily accessible, such as a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. Eat breakfast, watch portion sizes, avoid juice or sweetened beverages and drink more water, be physically active for 60 minutes per day, limit screen time, and be a good example by making healthy choices as well.

       5. What are some creative ways parents can get their children to live healthier lifestyles?

Elizabeth Hesley: Reduce screen time to 2 hours a day. Get the whole family involved in physical activity by playing a game of kickball or soccer or going on a walk around the neighborhood. Preparing more meals at home is very cost effective and a way for children to get involved in making meals. Let the children stir/mix the food, add the cut up vegetables to the salad, pick which fruit will be served with a meal, measure out food, etc. Parents will teach their children how to prepare food and how to make a balanced meal. Let children pick out certain foods at the grocery store. Give children the opportunity to pick out their favorite fruit and vegetable at the grocery store and have them available at home. This gives children a since of independence that they are selecting foods that they like and have a say in the foods purchased in the home. Children will be more apt to eat foods that they like and selected themselves. 

       6. How can SouthCoast Health help parents and their children avoid or overcome childhood obesity?

Dr. Amanda Hendricks: Regular well check ups for children are vital to promote wellness. Your child’s doctor will assess weight and body mass at every well check up and provide tips for maintaining a healthy weight. SouthCoast Health can help by continuing to promote total wellness. We sponsor fun, family friendly events like the United Way Turkey Trot every year which are great opportunities for the whole family.

If you have any more questions or would like advice from a SouthCoast Health dietitian or pediatrician to make sure your child is living the healthiest lifestyle possible, click here to schedule an appointment today


Whether you are looking for a primary care doctor or a pediatrician, an ObGyn or another medical specialist, SouthCoast Health has you covered with its wide range of world-class healthcare services, available throughout the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry. SouthCoast Health has 120 physicians and medical professionals in 18 locations in Savannah, Richmond Hill, Pooler, Rincon, Baxley, Bluffton, Hilton Head, and Hinesville. SouthCoast Health offers comprehensive medical services including: Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Pediatrics, Allergy and Immunity, Cardiology, Eye Care, Imaging, Infectious Diseases, Nephrology, Neurology, Physical Therapy, Podiatry, Pulmonology, Sleep Medicine, Surgery, Clinical Trial Research Studies, Diabetic Self-Management Training Sessions, Dietetic Counseling, High Risk Breast Cancer Clinic, Laboratory Services, Massage Therapy, Optical Shop, Pharmacy, and Urgent Care.

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