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Child/Teen Obesity Rate Bad, Not Worse

Child Obesity Plateaus: 11% of Kids Heaviest of Heavy; 32% Still Overweight

Child Obesity: Good News to Come? continued...

Passehl was not surprised when previous CDC figures showed the child obesity epidemic getting worse; she already was seeing obese children flooding into her programs.

"It looked worse than we knew -- and, as it turned out, it was," she tells WebMD.

And now she's not surprised that the CDC numbers suggest the epidemic has stopped accelerating. There are signs, she says, that government efforts -- such as programs to make school meals more nutritious and to get kids to be more active -- are starting to work.

"It is a bit like turning the Titanic, but there have been changes that matter," Passehl says.

She recently started a new child obesity program in one community, and noticed that people have begun to ask the right questions.

"When we start a program in a community we always ask the parent, 'What are the three things you most want?' In past they said, 'I want my child to lose weight, I want to lose weight, I don't know how to cook,'" she says. "Now I get more specific answers: 'I would like to cut down the number of sodas we drink, I would like the family to be more physically active.' To me, these are indicators that health messages are getting across."

The key, Passehl says, is not to get into a struggle with children. She says parents just don't know where to start, so they typically begin by trying to withhold food from their overweight or obese child.

"When you do this, you actually create a struggle and a challenge over who is going to win, the parent or the child. So any health messaging is never going to happen because the kids are too busy doing what they are not supposed to do," she says.

Instead, Passehl says, the entire family has to get on board -- and to begin with small changes. If everyone in the family is drinking sugary soft drinks all day long, it will just be an exercise in frustration to try to stop drinking soda. But slightly cutting back on sodas might be an achievable goal. And once family members achieve one success, their sense of accomplishment lets them build up to other successes.

The main focus of Passehl's program is to divide responsibilities for weight loss between the parents and the children. For example, it is the parent's job to put healthy food on the table -- and not to provide snacks all day long. It is the child's job to come to the table and to choose from the food that is there -- without running to the refrigerator to gobble unhealthy food.

One trick Passehl uses is to teach the children about nutrition, and then have them teach their parents.

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