Doctor Offers Advice to Severely Overweight Child

ByABC News via logo

May 24, 2005 — -- Over the years, "Good Morning America" has followed the story of Anamarie Regino, an Albuquerque, N.M., girl who was taken away from her parents for a short time when she was 4 years old because she was dangerously overweight.

Now Anamarie is 8 years old and still struggling with her weight, baffling doctors and her family.

Anamarie's weight has ballooned since infancy. By the time she was 1, she was 65 pounds. Just a year later, she weighed 80 pounds. At her kindergarten graduation, she weighed in at 120 pounds.

At one point, the state of New Mexico suspected she was neglected and took Anamarie from her home, but returned her about a month later when they found nothing wrong.

It was an experience Anamarie's mother, Adela Regino, will never forget. "Not being able to do a thing … feeling so helpless," she said, recalling the incident.

Anamarie is quiet, gets good grades and treasures her friendships. She recently celebrated her 8th birthday, and at 5-foot-2 she weighs 210 pounds.

Doctors predict she'll soon suffer from diabetes and its complications.

"I'm concerned at how long she's going to live," her mother said.

ABC News' medical contributor and director of the Yale University Nutrition Center Dr. David Katz examined Anamarie to try and help her shed some of those dangerous pounds.

He suggested that her local Albuquerque doctor prescribe medications, whichhave helped a little.

"I think she is in severe trouble, but I am encouraged by the fact that she's not gaining as much," said Dr. Javier Aceves, Anamarie's doctor.

Katz believes that Anamarie has an extreme case of metabolic efficiency, meaning she is susceptible to gaining extreme amounts of weight when calories are abundantly available.

Experts are alarmed by skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity, due in part to the availability of high-calorie foods and a lack of exercise.

Katz opened up the Reginos' cupboards and refrigerator for some advice on how Anamarie could eat healthier.

In the freezer, he found fish and frozen vegetables and some lowfat yogurt in the fridge, which he said were all good things.

But Katz also found that like many mothers, Regino is confused by food labels.

"It's got pictures of strawberry and kiwi, so you think this is a healthy fruit drink," Katz said, referring to a Kool-Aid juice pouch. "But, in fact, there is no strawberry and no kiwi in this. It is sugared water flavored like strawberry and kiwi."

Katz also advised that Anamarie should cut out oily peanut butter, fatty macaroni and cheese, frozen pies, marshmallows, and buttery popcorn from her diet.

Katz recommends foods high in fiber and said to look for a short list of ingredients to avoid harmful, highly processed foods.

Even foods that seem healthy -- like "wheat" bread and breakfast cereals -- can be deceptive.

As Katz pulled a loaf of bread out of Regino's refrigerator, he told her and Anamarie, "Here, I think you were tricked because here you have a wheat bread and you're probably thinking wheat bread is good, right?"

But Katz pointed out that the label did not say "whole wheat" -- an important distinction. "This is a wheat bread that has less than one gram of fiber -- it has almost no fiber. And that's because it's not whole wheat," he said.

On a trip to the grocery store with Katz, Regino and Anamarie looked carefully at labels and tried to choose foods high in fiber and low in fats and sugars.

Adela Regino is committed to saving the life of her only child by changing Anamarie's exercise, medications, supplements and eating habits.

"You have to keep looking, you have to keep pushing, you have to, keep fighting for your children," she said. "If you don't do that -- nobody will."

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