Defining the Problem–It’s Bigger Than You!
About the Guest
Today on the broadcast, award-winning medical journalist and author, Dr. Walt Larimore, talks to parents about the seriousness of childhood obesity. Joining him in the studio is Todd Chobotar, Director of Publishing at Florida Hospital in Orlando.
Today on the broadcast, award-winning medical journalist and author, Dr. Walt Larimore, talks to parents about the seriousness of childhood obesity.
Bob: As a parent, you wouldn't do anything that was dangerous or unhealthy as it relates to your children, would you? Here's Dr. Walt Larimore.
Walt: Studies show that 75% of parents of obese children see their children as being normal sized.
Clowny: Hey, boys and girls, I'm Clowny the Clown, and how about a hot, juicy Clown Burger?
Walt: It's because of what they see in the community, what they see in the church, what they see at school, what they see at the family.
Bandido: No, man, I'm the Bandito. You don't wan' a burger, you wan' tacos. You want a 50 and a 60 and a 70 [unintelligible].
Man: Yeah, I'll take a hamburger, a …
Walt: For parents, for families to look honestly at the decisions they are making every day with food choices, nutrition choices, restaurant choices, all of which impact the child to see are we at risk and what can we do about it?
Major Happy: No, kids, this is Major Happy. You want some chicken legs, kids – you want some friend chicken, don't you, yeah? And it's healthy, too, I mean, we've got herbs, we've got spices.
Man: Oh, yeah, and I want it super-sized, too.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 4th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Doctors tell us there is a health crisis around obesity in America's children. Are you contributing to that crisis? Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. I have to admit, I'm a little conflicted about today's program, I mean, for a number of reasons. First of all, because we have this bucket of peanut M&Ms on the table, and I'm thinking …
Dennis: And Hershey's, they're kind of gold-covered gold bars that are …
Bob: Who put those out here for these interviews?
Dennis: I have no idea. It must be Tonda's [sp] fault.
Bob: The second reason I'm conflicted is because I am a stockholder in The Cheesecake Factory and, I guess, given what we're going to talk about, I'm going to have to probably sell my shares by the end of this program, you know?
Dennis: Well, we're going to talk about a subject that undoubtedly touches many of our listeners. It's obesity, and we're talking about specifically childhood obesity, and we have Dr. Walt Larimore and Todd Chobotar joining us on FamilyLife Today. Todd, Walt, welcome to the broadcast.
Todd: Thanks very much.
Walt: Good to be here with you guys.
Dennis: Walt is a physician, has authored a number of books. He and his wife, Barb, live in Colorado Springs and have just finished a book called "Supersized Kids." And I really am excited about talking about this book here in a moment, Walt, because I think this is a key issue for us to address in the Christian community.
Todd is from Orlando, Florida. He is the director of publishing at Florida Hospital in Orlando and just shared with me that Florida Hospital is the largest hospital in the United States.
Todd: That's correct.
Dennis: And I had no idea – 1 million patients a year go through the doors of that hospital in Orlando.
Todd: That's right.
Dennis: What a ministry, and it's a Christian hospital.
Dennis: Founded by a group of believers. They have a desire to minister to people in their bodies as well as their hearts. Walt, you tell a story in your book about a little girl that came to your office whose baby bottle was filled with something I don't think I've ever seen. I don't think I've ever seen this occur.
Walt: It was filled with soda and, actually, not a unique experience for primary care physicians around this country. Over the last 10, 15, 20 years, we've seen children who more and more and more are fed more and more junk – fast food, easy food. Parents are so busy that often they turn to these simple solutions that are potentially very damaging to their children.
Bob: You're talking about sippy cups with Coke in them, is that right?
Walt: This was a baby bottle, actually, with Coke in it.
Dennis: How old was she?
Walt: She was, at that time, three years old. It's a little old for the bottle yet it was …
Dennis: Yeah, really.
Walt: But if we look at surveys, we see that the most commonly consumed vegetable for children 19 to 24 months old is the French fry. I mean, it's just a stunning problem. But this particular girl, I'll call her Sarah – was so rotund, she was so overweight, that she was just squeezed into the stroller. Her mother was obese, and the family, who I'd care for years, was obese, but for some reason it struck me that this young child needed some dramatic intervention, and I talked to her mom, ended up later talking to her dad about changes that they could make to break this cycle of obesity that ran in their family.
And to make a very long story very short, the family chose not to do that. This little girl developed diabetes at a young age followed by high blood pressure followed by heart disease, and …
Dennis: Like how young did she develop diabetes?
Walt: She developed it at about eight years of age. She had high blood pressure by 10 years of age, she had heart disease around 12 years of age, had multiple hospitalizations and ended up in the intensive care unit at 14 years of age and ended up dying during that hospitalization.
She passed away in my arms. I was holding her. She was in a coma at the time. Her mom was there, her dad was an absent father who had told her how fat she was, how ugly she was, and, Dennis and Bob, you guys talk enough about how important the father is in affirming a child. This kid didn't have that.
She had been bullied, she had suffered severe depression because of that, ended up in a coma, and ended up dying as a direct result of her obesity. And it changed my practice. It changed my life to lose that little girl.
And I'm thankful for that family at that point. She had a little brother, I'll call him Hershel. She had a little brother who was following in her footsteps, and that family decided to make some very simple changes, and that family's church, that pastor who had walked with the family through this, decided that he was going to make some changes in his church and in his preaching and in their potluck dinners and in their activities and in their fellowships.
As a result of that, that little boy, Hershel, actually grew up to lose his obesity. I remember the day that the family asked me to come to his high school graduation in the little town that I practiced in, and that family had begun to change. They taught me, that church and that family taught me that change is possible in small, simple steps, not big steps, but it's possible, and it taught me that that change is lifesaving.
Bob: Todd, from the hospital perspective, this problem of obesity both in adults and in children is something that we have watched grow into almost epidemic proportions over the last couple of decades, haven't we?
Todd: It really is, and it's something that is frightening and disturbing, really, for hospitals in America, because what we see happening is that the kids that develop these problems when they're young have much higher disease incidences when they get older.
We're already bursting at the seams as a country with healthcare problems and healthcare needs, and we're worried that the next generation of kids that are growing up could overwhelm the healthcare system in our country if we don't do something about it and do it very quickly.
Bob: I had somebody tell me not long ago, and this was anecdotal, and I don't even know if it was legend or reality, but they said that hospitals today are having to refit their hospitals with new beds because patients weigh more. Is that accurate?
Todd: That is accurate. In fact, wheelchairs, as well. The stretchers that they are wheeled on – all of these things have had to be retooled.
Walt: Dennis and Bob, we may be looking at the first generation of Americans in history, these kids, the first generation, that will not outlive their parents in longevity. A child who is obese does not have a life expectancy of 75 years or 70 years or 60 years or 55 years or 50 years. They have a life expectancy of about 47 years. We are literally talking about the future health of an entire generation of Americans. It's that critical.
Dennis: I can imagine that the lack of – well, at recess, there used to be required games. We used to play dodgeball, and you go to schools today, those types of activities of going to the gym and taking and hour …
Bob: Jumping jacks, does anybody do jumping jacks anymore?
Walt: Many of our listeners may not even remember what they were. But remember the law that was passed – no child left behind. I think there should be a new law. Instead of no child left behind, no child left on his or her fat behind. Because the reason is, children – and I'm not at all being pejorative, because children who are overweight not only have physical burdens, they have incredible emotional burdens. They are the kids that are picked on. They are the kids that are bullied. In fact, they tend to become the kids who become bullies. It affects them physically, emotionally, relationally, and I believe even spiritually.
But I don't want to hide the problem, I want to bring the problem out of the closet and, as a result of the experts at Florida hospital working on this book, we've developed a program, a simple program, that any family can do that they can begin either preventing obesity in their family or treating it.
And, Dennis and Bob, I am tired of people who face this obesity problem with unproven pills or potions or take this or do that or there's a simple approach. There is no simple approach to this problem, but any successful approach starts with the family. And the family that chooses to make some very simple steps together, we've proven now in two clinical studies, they will see success. But not only will they see success physically, what's most exciting to us is what happens to them as a family.
I'll give you an example. We did an initial clinical trial at Florida hospital of just five families that went through a very simple eight-week program. We call it the Eight Week Program. And one of the families was a young, single dad who had two teenage kids, a boy and a girl. And this young man, this young boy, was doing video games, on average, six and a half hours a day. One of the choices that they made as a family was to cut back on this video game time, just cut back an hour a day per week. And at the end of the study, this family had lost an amazing amount of weight, they had lost inches in their waist circumference, they had lost body mass index, but what was most striking was their family health score had gone up.
So I was meeting with the family after, and this little boy, his name was Jesus, Jr., and I was talking to him, and I said, "What was the hardest thing for you?" And he said, "Oh, cutting back on video games because," he said, "Dr. Wall, I'm really, really good." And I said, "Well, what are you back to?" He said, "Less than an hour a day." And I said, "Was that hard?" He said yes that was hard.
I said, "Well, now that the study is over, now that the eight weeks are over, I assume, because you're good at it, you enjoy it, that you're going to go back to video games." He said, "No, no, no." I mean, just like that – "No, no, no." And I said, "Why not?" Because I thought he really isn't telling me the truth. I said, "Why not?" And this little young man's eyes got misty, and he said, "Because I enjoy spending time with my dad."
This was a family that had substituted television and video games and activities for family time, for family meals. Dennis and Bob, it changes that family's life, to reconnect. And I sense that that may be one of the root problems to this childhood obesity epidemic.
Dennis: I want to ask you if this is an old wives' tale or if this is medically accurate. It has been said, or I've heard, that as you grow up, and you become obese, you have a certain number of fat cells in your body, all right? And even if you lose weight, and you become an adult, those fat cells are still there craving what they used to have when they were overweight. Now, is that an overly simplified description? Because a lot of people use that saying, "Hey, I'm a victim. I was overfed when I was a kid, and now I've got all these fat cells."
Bob: I know my fat cells are craving something right now.
Dennis: Is that accurate?
Walt: Yes and no. Yes, it is accurate. In fact, we talk about it in the book, about the ages children put on these fat cells and the fact that they do keep them, but also people talk about genetics, you know, "Well, my aunts and uncles and parents are obese. I'm doomed to that same future." And what the research shows is that sofa slugs and couch potatoes are not born, they're raised. It's not the heredity, it's not the fat cells that make nearly as much difference as it is the day-to-day decisions that families make.
In our Eight Week Plan, what we do – we don't tell people it's not about diet, it's – in fact, it's not even about weight loss in our Eight Week Plan. It's about making wise, healthy decisions as a family. It's not about a parent making those decisions or a child necessarily making those decisions. It's about the family coming together, this institution, the first institution ordained by God, the most successful institution at dealing with any of society's problems is the family.
So we have a family simply sit down together, do the assessment together. If they're at risk, then look in six different areas of activities they could consider. We don't tell them which ones to choose or how many to choose. We just say, "Choose something. One or more of the things on this list that you want to do as a family."
And what we found in both of our clinical trials is that families do this over eight weeks. They take very simple, seemingly insignificant steps. They begin to see the fruit of those steps. Dennis and Bob, they're just carrying out God's principles as a family. And what does He do? He fruits those principles. They begin to see success.
Now, we saw in every family in our trial weight loss, reduced body mass index, reduced waist circumference. But that wasn't the goal. The goal was to become more highly healthy as individuals and as a family.
Families that do that draw closer to each other, and my sense is, although we didn't prove this in our trial, that churches that choose to do this are going to see the same success because many of our listeners today are very firm believers but they have not-so-firm bodies because the greatest obesity problem in America is among evangelical Christians. Of all faith groups or non-faith groups, atheists and agnostics, the most obese is the church, evangelical Christians.
Dennis: What's your explanation for that?
Walt: I think there are several. The first is that the sin of gluttony may be the most under-preached sin of the day.
Dennis: It's become accepted within the Christian community.
Walt: Absolutely. Look at our potluck dinners, look at our church fellowships, look at our small group fellowships. How many of those are really highly healthy? Very, very few of them are. Look at the activities that we participate in. Church kids tend to be very, very active. If you count extracurricular activities as being an activity a child does once a week or more, church kids are doing – they've got youth group, they've got Sunday school, they've got church activities, they've got the various sports that they do, they've got music lessons, it goes on and on and on.
The research shows us that the more activities a child does, the more extracurricular activities, the more unhealthy they are. They have less time to rest. They have less time to play. They have less time to concentrate on relationships. They have less time as a family, and all of these factors impact childhood obesity.
Bob: Todd, how many families have you seen go through this Eight Week Program at Florida Hospital, and what are you seeing happen?
Todd: Really remarkable things, Bob. I tell you, we had – Dr. Larimore mentioned the first trial that was done. We did a program starting this last January called "The Super Fit Family Challenge." We challenged all of Orlando to come together, along with the Orlando Magic NBA basketball team, public supermarkets, the YMCA, a number of companies in Orlando just banded together.
We had 150 families that went through this program that Dr. Larimore wrote, and the results, after only eight weeks were phenomenal. We had 101 families that finished the program, which is usual. We find that there are some families that drop out along the way, but we had 101 that finished. They lost over 1,000 pounds, and they lost over 188 inches around the waist.
But, really, the most remarkable thing was to see the way that families' lives were changed. Let me give you one example.
There was a lady that got up at a press conference with the mayor of Orlando and told what the effect was on her family of going through this. And she said, "You know, we all lost weight, everyone in the family did," but she said, "The best part about it was that it was fun." For example, one of the things that they chose to do was they got every member of the family one of these little pedometers that you can just wear on your waist. They're very inexpensive. You can get them for $5 or $6 maybe up to $10 at a local sports store.
And they had a goal that everybody in the family was going to try to hit 10,000 steps in one day, and here is what was so fun. The child who – I think he was eight years old, and he was also very much into videogames but even more into the Internet and computers and so forth. But what he started doing was he and his dad got into a competition to see who would get to 10,000 steps faster that day, and when the father would get home from work at the end of the day, the child would get home from school, he would check his dad's pedometer to see how many steps, and if he was behind, he would go out and run laps around the house just so that he could beat his dad to get to the 10,000 steps.
And the kids had a ball with this. They made decisions to go out to the park at least three nights a week and just walk through the park. One day a week – they bought bicycles so that they could go out and go riding together as a family. I mean, it's that opportunity of coming together as a family, and it doesn't have to be work.
You know, the mother said, she said the best thing about this program for her was it brought the family together in a common goal. And, you know, how many families have those common goals that they're striving for? They may have them in different areas, but this is something that everybody can band together on in the family, and it makes it better, too, if you have a child, let's say, that is a little bit – has a problem with weight and is struggling with weight, but you may have another child that doesn't.
Well, it's not very effective to try to single out that one child that really is the problem weight child. It's much better if you can say, "Hey, let's do this together as a family. Let's plan to have a weekly family meeting where we go through our goals for this week and come up with fun activities that are exciting, that are exercising, that are exhilarating, and it draws us together as a family."
Dennis: I really like your approach, because you're really calling on parents to be just that – be the parents. Set a North Star for your family and get your kids together and start talking about what the culture talks a lot about but doesn't do much about, which is real family values.
It seems to me that what you've done here, Walt, in your book is you're helping families reestablish family around the issue of weight loss, and I know it's more than weight loss, you've already described it as that and, personally, I'm excited that we're offering your book because, as Bob knows, we've talked about – well, we haven't talked about diet that many times on FamilyLife Today, but …
Bob: And I appreciate that, by the way, thank you.
Dennis: But when we have, the phone has rung off the wall. And I think what's been missing that you're tapping into is I think there is a need for a very simple process that gives families hope while not at the same time putting them in a real tight box that – where the weight falls off in a period of three or four months but gets put back on over the next six to nine months.
Bob: And that simple process is what you have outlined for folks in your book, "Supersized Kids," which we have copies of in our FamilyLife Resource Center. And I would imagine, especially at this time of year, there are probably families who are thinking, "You know, we need to do something like what the Larimores did. We need to tackle this as a family."
I'd encourage them get a copy of your book, read through it. We have it in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the screen, and that will take you right to a page where there is information about Dr. Larimore's book.
There is also a copy of a book called "The Family Fitness Fun Book," which provides healthy, fun activities for families to do together that can get your heart pumping, get your blood circulating, get you up off the couch and get you doing something together as a family.
Again, there are copies of these books, both of them, in our FamilyLife Resource Center. Go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the red button that says "Go." That will take you right to the page where there is information about these resources, and if you order both of the books, we'll send along, at no additional cost, the CD of our conversation this week. Again, our website is FamilyLife.com. You can also call for more information about these resources at 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
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Well, tomorrow we're going to be back to talk about what families can do together to help deal with the issue of overweight and obesity in your family. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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