We are a nation full of overweight children hurtling down a destructive path toward future major health problems. In this week’s episode of Wellness for the Real World, Dr. Veronica talks slimming strategies with Ira Green, who runs a weight loss camp for children, and Dr. Tom Potisk, an author who shares his first-hand experience.
|IRA GREEN is the founder/director for the Healthy Children Foundation, Camp Timber Creek, and now Camp Shining Stars. He has helped hundreds of campers go home with tremendous weight loss and dramatically improved self-esteem.
He is a frequent speaker about the tools needed by youth to battle obesity, and helps others start programs that target quality of life transformation with youth and adults.
We’re living in an “obesogenic” society, characterized by environments that promote increased food intake, non-healthful foods and physical inactivity. No wonder two-thirds of us are overweight, as defined as an adult with a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9. And one-third of us is obese, or has a BMI of 30 or higher. BMI takes into account height and weight.
Obesity in the United States is so prevalent that First Lady Michelle Obama called it an epidemic and one of the greatest threats to America’s health and economy when she launched a major initiative to combat the problem in childhood. About 15.3 percent of children ages 6-11 are overweight compared to 15.5 percent ages 12-19. Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem. Plus, obese youth are more likely to become overweight or obese adults, and therefore more at risk for associated adult health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.
Green’s aim is to lower those numbers with his Camp Shining Stars, a non-profit summer camp in Wilson, N.C. Formerly overweight himself – he tipped the scales at 485 pounds before having gastric bypass surgery – his mission is to make sure children don’t endure what he had to. He had ballooned up to 200 pounds by the time he was 12 and weighted 325 upon graduation from high school. He thought nothing of pulling into a fast food drive thru after devouring a huge meal at a steakhouse.
“My biggest problem was I never felt full and I really never felt hungry,” Green, 5-10 ½, told Dr. Veronica.
Before he lost weight he had lost interest in sex because of his weight, found it hard to wipe his self after using the bathroom, had to call restaurants in advance to make sure they had proper chairs that could support him, buy two seats on an airplane and skip going to movie theaters in some cases.
“Before I became 485 pounds I was probably at my death bed,” says Green, 58. “I had congestive heart failure. I couldn’t sleep on a flat bed for over two years. I was sleeping on a reclining chair. Thirteen years ago I decided to have the gastric bypass operation. When I was right about to go under the knife, I turned to the doctor who operated on me and said to him ‘If I survive this, what I want to do is help children never to have to go through what I’m going through my entire life with this weight problem.’ ”
When it comes to helping children, he has to look no further than his own family. Both of his sons, one by birth and the other adopted, battle weight problems. His youngest son, 16, attended Camp Shining Star as a camper before he started working there three years ago. Green preaches seven keys to success to parents and campers:
- Children need structure. Youths gain most of their weight during the summer months when they don’t have the structure of school.
- Support. “This is a hard one for parents to understand,” Green says. “I say to the children, “As much as your parents may love you they may not be the best support for you.’ ”
- Rewards. Green sends a $25 gift certificate to kids who email him their weight every Sunday for three months and has found that those who complied lost or maintained weight
- Routine. Set up a daily game plan which includes having a balance in their life allowing kids to juggle their extracurricular activities, homework, exercise and meals
- Be selfish for yourself.
Green and Stacey Halprin, a frequent Oprah guest who used to weigh 550 pounds before losing more than 300 pounds, recently launched an online support group for overweight children. He says parents have to be careful how they deal with this issue. “You don’t want to apply pressure to your children about their weight,” Green says.
| DR. TOM POTISK is one of America’s top natural health care practitioners. He was elected Chiropractor of the Year, published and lectured extensively in his community, helps thousands of patients in the holistic practice he began in 1985. Now, with his books and presentations he shares his knowledge and experience worldwide, in practical self-care heath methods we, our families, and our doctors can benefit from immediately..
Dr. Tom Potisk says parents also must show tough love. The author of Whole Health Healing: The Budget-Friendly Natural Wellness Bible and father of three said when he realized his youngest, now eight, was going to be bigger than average he and his wife began keeping a watchful eye on what the boy consumed.
“We have to keep junk food out of the house completely,” says Potisk, who practices a holistic lifestyle. “If we buy it and try to ration it, the kids find it.”
And with children going to friends’ houses, parties and grandmother’s house, “You have to lay down the law to the parent or whoever is in charge at where they’re going and say, ‘I’m very concerned about what my child is eating. What are you going to be serving over there?’ ”
At eight, his son still wants to eat whatever he wants. Potisk says when children are about 12, they begin to get a sense of their problem more and what needs to be done about it. “Right now if he goes to a party and I’m not careful, he’ll eat all kind of candy and junk food without any question.”
Dr. Veronica wondered how Potisk moderates this without making the boy feel like he’s being watched all of the time. Doesn’t the dad worry about spurning an eating disorder in his son?
“It can get out of hand and (if it does) you’re going to hurt the child emotionally,” Potisk says. “We keep expressing a lot of love. We keep saying, ‘Mike, we love you and you’re growing up just fine. You’re turning out to be a wonderful boy but you do have to be careful with what you’re eating a little bit more so than most people. These are the things you need to be watching for.’ We keep going over that again, again, and again. I’m starting to see little signs.”
At a recent soccer game someone brought snacks. Mike headed for the unhealthy snacks then turned and selected the healthy option. “Hey dad, look at me,” he said to Potisk.
His other two children question how come the neighbors have potato chips, Pop Tarts, candy and such but they can’t at their home. Potisk explains that those foods will negatively affect that family’s health in the future.
“I also point out, ‘Can you see how unhealthy those kids are compared to us? They get sick more often than we do,’ ” Potisk says. “It seems like you’re going to say it and say it and say it. Now that my boy is 15, I can see him taking salads and making comments about what people are eating. Eventually it does work but it’s a real battle. It’s a real challenge for parents.”
Because children may be normal weight and eat unhealthy, parents have to be proactive by being aware of inflammatory foods and the glycemic index (GI), which ranks carbohydrates according to their effect on our blood glucose level. Carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion and release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream have a high GI and vice versa. High GI foods, such as plain, white sugar, white potatoes and white bread, can cause fat to build up in your body. Conversely are the less glycemic foods such as beans, lentil, barley and whole wheat.
Food allergy is another aspect of which parents should be aware. Potisk discovered that his son was allergic to dairy and wheat, the two most common of food allergies. He recommends doing an “elimination diet,” or cutting out an ingredient for a while to note changes that could signify an allergy. When he did this with his son, he noticed an improvement in his son’s energy and concentration levels as well as weight loss.
Ultimately, parents should set the example for their children by leading a healthy lifestyle. Green’s mother was obese. Potisk’s was and still is yet he’s a believer that being predisposed to a fat gene doesn’t necessarily result in someone being overweight.
“If you have genes or people in your family that are indicating that should be obese, it doesn’t mean that you are going to be obese,” Potisk says. “You can take action and you can control things so that that gene doesn’t express itself.”