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Childhood Obesity Awareness

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June 17, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about childhood obesity awareness. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Hannah Swisher, a dietetic intern here at Mississippi State University.

So, Hannah, before the show started, you and I were talking about areas that you were thinking about specializing in. Not to put you on the spot here, but would you mind telling me more about it, and why you're so passionate about this area?

Hannah Swisher: Yeah, no problem, Amy. So, as a dietetic intern, you get exposed to many different areas of nutrition and the issues associated with those specific areas. My interest is maternal and child nutrition. I gravitate towards this area because children are our future, and making sure that our children remain at a healthy weight during their childhood and adolescence can set a foundation for a healthy adult life. As a future dietician, I feel like I can offer insight into healthy eating and adequate weight management in this area.

Amy Myers: I certainly understand why you want to help other families with children. Tell me more about what adequate weight management in childhood entails.

Hannah Swisher: Well, growth and development are tracked through the use of growth charts in infancy and childhood. The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization actually developed growth charts and categorized them based on gender, head circumference, weight for height, height for age, and weight for age. These charts are what pediatricians and other healthcare professionals use to monitor growth and development in children, especially newborn and infants. What we want from a growth chart is really to map out the ideal growth for children. Everything from genetics, environment, nutrition, activity, to health problems really influences how your child grows.

Amy Myers: Is there a specific range that a child should stay in to be considered healthy or not at risk for being overweight?

Hannah Swisher: When you're looking at a growth chart, what you really want to focus on is how your child is changing. One static point on the growth chart isn't relevant as to five data points over time. You want to know rates at which your baby or child is growing, and the rate compared with the growth chart. These simply represent the average weight, height, or head circumference of a bunch of normal children. You will see the percentile lines on the chart running parallel to each other. If the child's weight is at the 50th percentile line, that just means that, out of 100 children her age, 50 will be bigger than she is, and 50 smaller.

The growth percentiles by themselves really don't say much. What really matters is the rate of growth. A normal rate of growth means that the child's growth points closely follow a percentile line on the chart. We usually don't worry about insufficient or excessive growth until a child's growth rate has crossed at least two percentile lines, so from above the 90th percentile to below the 50th. If a child's weight, height, or head size is below the fifth percentile, it's important to see if her growth points have always paralleled at the fifth percentile line, which would mean her growth rate is normal, or if she's suddenly falling further behind, which is more concerning.

Amy Myers: Wow, that's very interesting. What else can we do about weight management in children?

Hannah Swisher: Well, obviously you want your kids to be active. Some ideas would maybe be enrolling your child in a sport they are interested in or maybe signing up for classes at a recreational center, like the YMCA. Even something as simple as taking a walk outside with them can be extremely significant.

Also, keeping track of what they are eating and how much they're eating is important as well. It can be typical for a child to come home from school and grab chips and cookies and sit down in front of the TV for hours. So introducing them to healthier snacks, like carrot sticks and dressing, can have a lasting effect on their weight as well.

Amy Myers: Yes. And of course we must make sure not to let them overexert themselves or expose them to activities during extreme cold or extreme heat. Is that correct?

Hannah Swisher: Yes. And make sure they stay hydrated while exercising with water or drinks specifically made for sports, like Gatorade or Powerade, in order to replace lost electrolytes during activity.

Amy Myers: Okay. But not too much sugar, right?

Hannah Swisher: Yeah. Not a lot of sugar.

Amy Myers: So do you have any advice for parents who might have kids that aren't really interested in sports? Is there any way that they can maybe do something else outside?

Hannah Swisher: Yeah. Sometimes maybe taking them to an indoor track or even taking them out to the refuge and having them, I don't know, walk the dog, and they'll maybe find ways that they won't even notice that they're being active, but still engaging in physical activity.

Amy Myers: Okay, so teaching them to walk a dog or maybe take them to the park...

Hannah Swisher: Yeah.

Amy Myers: ...could be a good thing. And a lot of kids are very curious, and you could go on little nature walks and show them different things about trees and outdoor nature things, right?

Hannah Swisher: Yeah. And especially since fall is coming up, that would be a perfect time to do it as well.

Amy Myers: All right, thank you so much. Today we've been speaking with Hannah Swisher, Mississippi State University dietetic intern. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion

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