One in about every five children and teens in the United States are obese, and many more children are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Beyond the bullying and shame that come with childhood obesity, there is a physical toll on those young bodies that sometimes cannot be reversed.
The Pediatric Weight Management Program at Children's Mercy Hospital is working to help those children before it's too late. Dr. Brooke Sweeney oversees the program.
"We have children here in this program that are young and can weigh 200, 300, some even 400 and 600 pounds," Sweeney said.
Children and their families come to the program to make a serious lifestyle change, learning new healthy eating habits, finding ways to stay active and sticking to a plan to help them regain their health and return to a safe weight.
Adam Clinton has been a patient for the past few months. He's 11 years old and has dropped 15 pounds since he began the program at Children's Mercy.
"It's tough. It's really tough," Adam said.
He says the doctor's appointments, classes and new healthy eating habits may not be easy, but it's better than how he felt before coming. He was overweight, so much so that he lost confidence, didn't want to participate in activities, and he felt helpless.
Adam's mom, Kellie Clinton, brought her son to Children's Mercy, worried about his long-term health.
"I have an older son, and we didn't have these same problems. I just didn't think we would ever be here doing what we're doing," Kellie Clinton said.
Sweeney says they're tackling a serious and potentially life-threating problem while it's manageable—something many families don't do, resulting in obesity and life-long health problems, sometimes shortening their life expectancy. She says the program sees about 700 patients every year.
"If you catch something early then it is easier to reverse it and potentially cure, but once something gets advanced like that you're trying to bring it into remission," Sweeney said. "Obesity is actually a disease similar to cancer with genetic underpinnings-- has some things that even happen in utero."
Morbidly obese children often are not able to return to a normal weight, Sweeney said. At that point, it's about trying to improve their quality of life and health as much as possible.
Another factor in the growing number of overweight and obese children is the health of their parents' generation.
"Many of their parents had already been suffering from obesity even before they were born, so the weight gain has started sooner in this generation," Sweeney said.
Months after Adam began coming to Children's Mercy, he still says it's tough, but worth it. Life isn't perfect, but he's hopeful he'll continue to make progress, getting back to a healthy weight.
Adam's mom says she couldn't be more proud of her son for facing this challenge head-on and making so much progress. She knows it's not easy.
"I've had the problem all my life ... I've always had a weight problem," she said.
Kellie Clinton said she's learning just as much as her son.
"I know i was part of the problem i knew we had to watch what we brought into the house," she said.
When asked how happy he is now, Adam said, "On a scale of one to 10, about an eight. It's really great. I'm glad I chose this decision."
You can find more information by clicking the links below to find out about preventing childhood obesity, healthy ways to help a child or teen lose weight, and risks of not addressing the problem now.
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