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It Takes All Hands on Deck to Curb Childhood Obesity

July 16, 2014 | Community News, Newark

handsondeckThe beginnings of what would become an obesity “tsunami” in the U.S. tracks back to 1982 according to Dr. Nwando Anyaoku, MD, FAAP, director of General Pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey, and co-chair of New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Newark (NJPHK-Newark). By 2010, 44 percent of children ages 3 to 19 in Newark, NJ had a body mass index (BMI) of 44.2 percent, putting them at risk for obesity and in grave danger of developing serious illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes and pulmonary disease, normally associated with older adults.

Dr. Anyaoku has dedicated her career to helping families address childhood obesity through healthy lifestyle choices. In 2013, she was an early champion of “Let’s Move in the Clinic and Community!”, a healthy lifestyle toolkit designed to help health care providers talk with patients and families about setting small, achievable nutrition and physical activity goals.

The New Jersey Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics, is partnering with NJPHK-Newark to bring the “Let’s Move in the Clinic and Community!” obesity prevention program to Newark-based pediatric providers and their staff. The joint effort provides practices with the training and tools to: 1) strengthen quality improvement efforts related to obesity prevention and intervention within the context of the patient centered medical home, and 2) equip healthcare providers with tools to become policy advocates to improve the health of their communities, beyond the walls of their office.

In connection with “Let’s Move in the Clinic and Community!” Dr. Anyaoku conducted a webinar for healthcare providers on May 22, 2014 to further educate participants about obesity rates and trends in the US and NJ, and the principles of nutrition and physical activity for children and adolescents. The webinar also addressed using BMI to measure overweight and obesity, starting at age two, and providing age appropriate guidance and messaging related to physical activity related to physical activity and access to healthy foods.

Dr. Anyaoku called on healthcare providers to start talking to parents early about nutrition, healthy eating, and an active lifestyle. Between 12 and 24 months, children assume the eating habits of the family, so it’s crucial for adults to understand portion control and be aware of what constitutes fruits and vegetables. “French fries are the most common vegetable in the U.S.,” Dr. Anyaoku observed, noting the need for education. She explained that children should not drink juice before they are six months old and thereafter; only 100% fruit juice. She also noted that all screen time should be limited, not just time watching TV.

In 2013, the CDC reported a decrease in obesity rates among young children from lower-income families in 19 states, including New Jersey. Dr. Anyaoku believes that we have the power to reverse the trends. “It takes all hands on deck; and when patients and their families have the tools for better choices, it makes a difference,” she concluded.

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