Childhood obesity epidemic: Florida ranks 13th in nation

Local hospital offers weight loss program for children ages 6 to 17 who are obese

By Allison McGinley - News Director

ORLANDO, Fla. - Childhood obesity is at epidemic levels.  More than 22 million children under 5 are overweight.

Pediatricians are seeing children as young as three who desperately need to lose weight.

It's become such a problem that families are placing their children in specialized obesity programs-- in hopes of winning the war on weight.

It's not every day you see a young child walking on a treadmill, but at the tender age of 4 Bridgette Whitehead is obese.

"We will overcome it.  When I look at her, she's perfect to me," said Lisa Whitehead, Bridgette's mother.

But her weight has become such a health problem the pre-schooler is now part of a hospital-run obesity program.

"It's a lifestyle change for the whole family," said Whitehead, "I wasn't educated enough to know that you shouldn't use a whole stick of butter when you are frying something."

When Bridgette joined the program she weighed 66 pounds some 20 pounds more than she should.

Today, she's 54 pounds.  She's dropped 12 pounds in 2 months.

But Bridgette battles more than just her weight.  She also has Prader Willi,a genetic disorder that causes her to constantly be hungry.

So it's even more important for her mom to manage her daughter's food choices as well as the amount.

"Like fruit.  It isn't always as healthy as you think.  There's a lot of natural sugars in that.  At home she would sit around and eat 6 or 7 bananas a day," said Whitehead.

"There's a weight problem in our young people," said Dr. Sharonda Alston Taylor.

According to Alston Taylor, 16 to 17 percent of children are obese nationwide.

In Florida that number is closer to 18 percent.

The sunshine state is actually 13th in the nation for the heaviest kids according to a study done in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services.

And getting a handle on obesity early in life is key. If parents and doctors can get a children's weight normalized by adolescence, they greatly reduce risk factors.

"If you don't intervene then you are looking at things like liver failure, high blood pressure, enlarged heart, obstructive sleep apnea," said Alston Taylor.

Since joining the weight loss program, Brigette's sleep apnea and restrictive lung disease are less severe.

And the whole family is taking weight loss seriously.  Mom has lost 13 pounds.  Her husband has lost 10 in 2 months.

Florida hospital hosts the Healthy 100 kids program which is aimed at helping children lose weight and live healthier lives.

Children age six to 17 with a body mass index in the 85th percentile or above qualify for the program and they must have at least one parent who willing to participate in program too.

The program is covered by health insurance.

But if you don't have insurance, Florida Hospital says it will work out a comfortable payment plan for you.


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