Monthly Archives: September 2017

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

With the school year just beginning, Door County Medical Center is looking at different ways to help our kids stay healthy and happy. Because there is such a strong connection between physical and mental health, and because September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, Door County Medical Center is taking the opportunity to look at the risks associated with childhood obesity, its causes, and the steps that all families can take to help children avoid this serious health condition and live a healthy life.

During the past 40 years, obesity has gone from being a disease that afflicted the very few to a national epidemic. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one third (36.5%) of American adults suffer from obesity. Perhaps more troubling is the rate of obesity among our nation’s youth—roughly one in six (17%) children in the United States is obese. In our own state, the obesity rate is not much better. According to recent data, close to 31% of the adult population in Wisconsin is obese, with the current state childhood obesity rate hovering around 15%.

How is Obesity Defined?

Obesity means having too much body fat, which is different from being overweight, or weighing too much. Technically, obesity is defined by a ratio called body-mass-index, or BMI, which compares a person’s weight in kilograms to their height. In children BMI is calculated in percentiles: overweight is considered 85th percentile to less than 95th percentile, obese is 95th percentile and above.

The Risks

There are numerous health risks associated with childhood obesity. Not only are obese children at higher risk to develop chronic physical health conditions and diseases, but they are also at higher risk of developing mental illness as well. Additionally, children with obesity are more likely to be obese as adults.

Physical health risks – Children with obesity are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint disorders, heart disease and related conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Mental health risks – Children with obesity are more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression and low self-esteem. They are also more likely to be bullied than their normal weight peers.

The Causes

The causes of childhood obesity are numerous, and more than one is often involved in the development of the disease. Factors include:

  • Eating and physical behaviors – including a disproportionate amount of high sugar and high fat foods and snacks, too much “screen time,” and too much time being physically inactive.
  • Genetics and metabolism.
  • Family and home environment – including lack of regular sleep or regular sleep schedule, and lack of regular meal schedule.
  • Community and social factors – this may include easy access to inexpensive, high calorie foods and sugary beverages, lack of access to affordable, healthier foods, and a lack of places to go in the community to get physically active.
  • Income and food insecurity – because high-calorie, processed foods tend to be more inexpensive, children from low-income families are more likely to be obese. One inexpensive, local resource that can help fight food insecurity is the Boys & Girls Clubs of Door County, which provides healthy snacks five days a week and healthy dinners Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. For more information on the Boys & Girls Clubs of Door County’s Food Program, please see our recent blog on the program, visit their website: http://bgcdoorcounty.org/ or call: (920) 818 – 1046.

For more information on the many causes and factors that result in childhood obesity, visit the CDC’s website by clicking here.

Prevention

The good news is that childhood obesity can be combated, even prevented. “The goal in kids is often not to lose weight, but to stop weight gain and allow them to grow into their weight,” says Dr. Amy Fogarty, pediatrician at DCMC. “In addition,” she says, “combating and preventing obesity is not only about weight, but also about creating healthy habits—both eating and fitness habits—that kids will carry into adulthood.”

Eat right, eat less

Eating right is important to maintaining a healthy weight, but what do we mean when we say “eating right?” Eating right means increasing the number of “green foods” that we keep and serve in the house, while reducing the availability of sugary, high-fat and processed foods.

  • Keep fruits and vegetables “out,” within reach, and available as snacks. Dr. Fogarty suggests parents “cut up fruit and veggies—have them in fridge ready to serve. Kids can grab them for a quick snack, or serve them as an ‘appetizer’ while you cook dinner.”
  • Serve more fruits, vegetables and whole-grains with each meal—vegetables should account for at least 30%, and fruits 20%, of any given meal, while whole-grains should account for an additional 30% (that’s 80% of the plate!)
  • Download the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Go, Slow, and Whoa foods chart. “Post it on your refrigerator at home or take it with you to the store when you shop.” Use it to help learn which foods lead to a healthier life. Additionally, Dr. Fogarty points out that “parents can even sort snacks in the fridge and pantry into green go foods, yellow slow foods and red whoa foods to help kids learn which foods provide the healthiest choices.”

Eating less means smaller portions at home. In the past 20 years, the amount of food that restaurants serve has nearly doubled, and according to the NIH, this “has affected the way we look at and serve food at home, too.” Learn more about the difference between a serving and a portion and about the phenomenon the NIH refers to as “portion distortion,” by clicking here.

Get active

When we eat more food—more calories—than our bodies can use in a day, our bodies store the excess—in other words, we gain weight. When you get active, you spend the excess, and maintain a proper energy balance. Whether it’s through playing a game of basketball, going for a family hike, or riding a bike to school, by being active both children and adults can maintain a healthy weight. To learn more about “energy balance,” visit the NIH website by clicking here.

Reduce screen time

Screen time means television screens, computer monitors, video games and handheld devices like smart-phones and tablets, and in the 21st Century, reducing screen time can be difficult. Nevertheless, increased screen time means reduced physical activity.  The common view among health experts is that “screen time at home should be limited to two hours or less a day. The time we spend in front of the screen, unless it’s work- or homework-related, could be better spent being more physically active.”

There is no single solution to confronting and combating childhood obesity, but as Dr. Fogarty points out, “often, by combining these different approaches, you can get more ‘bang for your buck.’”  For a more in depth look at these different strategies please visit the CDC website on Strategies to Prevent & Manage Obesity by clicking here, or the NIH website on Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition (We Can) by clicking here. For great ways to create healthy and fun school lunches for your little ones please click here.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Door County: Providing a Food Program for Families in Need

Boys and Girls Club of Door CountySix years ago the Boys and Girls Clubs of Door County started a program designed to address the nutritional needs of children from food insecure families. “People in Door County often don’t realize how many families in the area are food insecure and really need help,” points out Boys & Girls Club Chief Executive Officer Julie Davis, “it’s a very hidden problem, but in working with these kids on a daily basis, you often hear things like ‘I had an apple to eat this weekend.’”

In 2011, the Monday Night Meal program that was established to address this need began small, serving 20 to 25 children from a warming kitchen at Sawyer Elementary School. Today, thanks in part to the addition of a commercial kitchen—generously provided by David Hatch—and with the addition of CACFP (Child and Adult Care Food Program) funding from the state, which reimburses the Boys & Girls Club for every snack and meal, the initial program has expanded enormously, averaging 200 or more after school snacks, five days a week, between Sawyer Elementary School and the new Boys & Girls Club in downtown Sturgeon Bay. Additionally, the Boys & Girls Club CACFP funded Food Program serves healthy dinners on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. However, CACFP funding doesn’t cover operational expenses, so even with state funding, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Door County ran a budget shortfall last year. Thankfully donations from Door County Medical Center, along with donations from other institutions and private individuals, have helped bridge that financial gap, “At Door County Medical Center,” remarks DCMC’s Communication and Marketing Specialist Erin Shortall, “we believe in supporting, in whatever way we can, Door County’s most vulnerable kids—in providing them with the basic necessities that they need to succeed. If that means providing financial support, then that’s what we do.”

Building a Platform for Academic Success

Initially, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Door County had three priority outcomes they were looking to build—three value systems that the organization wanted to instill in the children they served: healthy lifestyles, academic success and good character and citizenship. Following their initial Monday Night Meal at Sawyer Elementary School they added a fourth: basic needs. Ms. Davis recalls, “We realized that, just like when you or I—when we’re sitting at our desk trying to do what we need to do at lunch and we haven’t eaten yet—we can’t focus.” She adds:

Kids that are running a constant calorie deficit can’t focus either. So, we felt strongly that, here in America, in Wisconsin, and in Door County, food insecurity should not be the barrier that kids are struggling against to achieve academic success. A lot of organizations work to help parents become more responsible. We’re not one of them. We’re an organization that if you’re hungry, we want to feed you. We want to provide a baseline so that you can move on to what’s really going to be key in helping you become a successful adult, which is building a solid academic platform for wherever you want to go after graduation. So, we’ve got to feed kids, this can’t be the barrier in our community that holds our kids back.

Healthy Lifestyles

For Ms. Davis and the staff at the Boys & Girls Club, it’s not just about providing kids with food, it’s about providing them with healthy food, and with the opportunity to explore new kinds of food.

Our commitment is to healthy lifestyles. We discovered we needed to expose kids, who are not used to having food available, to a wide array of fresh fruits, vegetables, and cheese. Understand that food insecure households can’t take the risk of exposing kids to new foods they won’t eat—they can’t financially afford to throw food away. As a food insecure parent, you’re not going to buy food your kids might not like—you’re not going to risk buying broccoli knowing that you might need to throw it away.

This approach also revolves around the repeated exposure to a variety of foods. Recently, the Boys & Girls Club implemented the “Tuesday Nutrition Nugget,” which involves Healthy Lifestyles Coordinator Susan Gigot-Klein teaching the kids about the different types of food—the difference between green beans and yellow beans, for example—and giving them the chance to sample foods they are less likely to have been exposed to, like hummus. Moreover, they discuss why eating healthy, “green” foods is important when trying to maintain a healthy body, and how maintaining a healthy lifestyle positively impacts your development as a human being.

Education

Perhaps more than anything, the Boys & Girls Club Food Program is about providing kids with the tools required to build a healthy lifestyle, tools which extend all the way from the garden to the dinning room table. “We started garden programming from the first summer that we offered summer programming,” says Ms. Davis, the Club initially working a double plot for three to four years at The Community’s Garden behind DCMC, and eventually building, in collaboration with Leadership Door County, a garden directly behind the Boys & Girls Club in downtown Sturgeon Bay. She adds, “Teaching kids about how and where their food is grown, and what it tastes like when it’s fresh—it incentivizes them to try fresh foods.”

Moving beyond the garden and into the kitchen, the Boys & Girls Club has developed programming like “Edible Art” and “Teen Cuisine.” Ms. Davis explains that, “With our teenagers, there are a lot of families where once you hit a certain age, guess what? You get to feed yourself. And their idea of feeding themselves is grabbing an energy drink and a bag of chips.” With Teen Cuisine, the kids not only learn basic kitchen skills, they also learn how to create a menu, purchase the food from the store, and finally, prepare the food. In essence, not only do they get the entire store-to-table experience of creating a meal for themselves, but also the basic cooking skills that they will need as an adult.

“There is a higher level of food insecurity in Door County than you might think. We tend to think that is happening in some other community, but it is happening right here,” Ms. Davis notes. “There are gaps that we find—calorie deficits, for example—and barriers and challenges to the kids that we serve. And it’s so real that you are driven to do something about it, and that is where I think we are, at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Door County we see a gap and a need in our community, so we are driven to try and fill that gap and serve that need.”

The Boys & Girls Club David G. Hatch Center is located at 55 South 3rd Avenue in downtown Sturgeon Bay. Afterschool snacks are provided Monday through Friday from 3:00-3:30 p.m., and dinners are provided Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5:30-6:00 p.m. Teen Cuisine and the Edible Arts programs take place during club time, weekdays from 4:45-5:30. Registration for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Door County is $10 per year. For more information on the Afterschool Program and/or the Food Program, and for more information on how to donate to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Door County, please visit their website at: http://bgcdoorcounty.org or call: (920) 818 – 1046.