The Fight Against Childhood Obesity: Two Kids' Stories

Samantha entered a program on Long Island run by Dolgoff, who set out to help her get healthier in a six-month period.

"My job is to teach you to eat as healthy as possible, so you have the healthiest heart and the healthiest body," Dolgoff told Samantha.

Nicholas entered a program led by a team of experts at the Pediatric Weight Management clinic at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Dr. Greg Plemmons monitored his progress.

At the start of their programs, both Samantha and Nick were weighed and their heights were measured. The figures were used to calculate Body Mass Index, or BMI, the common measure doctors use to track obesity.

Samantha's BMI percentile was dangerously high.

"As you can see, she is well above the highest line, so her BMI is above the 97th percentile," Dolgoff said. "It's not high enough to be above the 99th percentile, so she's not considered morbidly obese, but she is in the obese category. ... She is at risk for medical illness because of her weight."

Nick's BMI percentile was up there as well.

"He is greater than the 95th percentile, and the No. 1 thing that he is at risk for developing as a young adult is type 2 diabetes," Plemmons said. "That's the No. 1 thing that we see directly related to obesity. He is also at risk for heart attacks and heart disease. ... He's at risk for low self-esteem, he's at risk for mental health issues."

The doctors explained an important distinction between treating childhood and adult obesity. Overweight adults need to lose weight. For overweight kids, however, gaining weight is normal because they're still growing.

The goal for overweight kids is to get them just to stay at one weight for a while, a weight their bodies can grow into until it becomes more normal for their height and age.

"Do you think we've brought [Samantha] here in time to turn things around and get her healthy?" Cohen asked.

"Oh, absolutely. Absolutely," Dolgoff said. "The younger the kids come in, the better they do."

Dolgoff sees patients one-on-one and also runs an online program used by kids in 46 states across the country.

Plemmons opened the pediatric weight clinic at Vanderbilt six years ago in response to rising obesity numbers. Since then, the clinic has treated more than 500 children.

"There aren't many clinics around the country that sort of specialize in this area," Plemmons said.

'Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right'

The challenge, of course, is complex and enormous. How do you teach a child who is not even old enough to read, to watch what he or she eats?

Dolgoff has developed a kid-friendly program called "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right."

"Kids know green is go, yellow is slow, red is stop, they understand that," Dolgoff said. "Using that to relate to food just makes it easy for them. They get it. ...

"I took every food and divided them into either red light, yellow light and green light categories. I made it fun for the kids. Green light foods are go. Yellow light foods are slow. And red light foods are uh-oh. ... You want it to be kid friendly, and that kind of stuff helps."

The main idea is to get kids, and their parents, to think before they eat.

Dolgoff took Samantha and her mom to the local grocery store to show them how the system works.

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