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Hope in the struggle against childhood obesity comes from many people, places

Published: Friday, Jan. 20 2012 11:38 p.m. MST

Zachary Willissalt, left, and Derrick Yates, eat oranges at East Midvale Elementary School in Midvale, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

From a young age Bobbie Hallows approached her summer vacations with a sigh of relief, not just for the break from school and homework but because she longed to escape her reality, if only for a brief moment. Hallows struggled with a condition that made her different than many of her peers and often made her the subject of relentless teasing: morbid obesity. Which is why she couldn't wait for school to get out. Her family's home on a farm in rural Yuma, Ariz., was a haven where she could relax, surrounded by those who loved her unconditionally.

Hallows is on her fourth round of addressing her obesity, a lifelong problem for her, and she has begun to write a book as a means of helping others find the same hope she has recently discovered. Rather than what may normally fall into the definition of addiction, Hallows has suffered from an ailment that is becoming a global problem. In fact, in 2000 the World Health Organization consulted a group of experts to recommend solutions in preventing what they called "a global epidemic."

"Morbid obesity has plagued my life, my health, my confidence as a human being," Hallows read from her book.

Hallow's story is representative of the high rate of childhood obesity and rising rate of adult obesity. Approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents between 2 and 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers studied 50 obese patients over a period of 10 weeks to monitor hormone levels before and after weight loss. They found that many hormones that inhibit appetite and regulate metabolism were lower after weight loss. The CDC reports that adult obesity levels top 30 percent in some states, further underscoring the importance of preventing obesity.

Hallows said after losing weight she often felt compelled to get back up to her old weight. To this day she has to be intentional in order to keep off the weight she gained in her youth and kept in the ensuing years. As a result of her obesity, she became hypoglycemic and has to follow a strict diet of no fruit, no juice, no bread, no starch and no sugar. For Hallows, freedom came when she realized she had some control over her weight, but it took her realizing the health costs she would face otherwise.

Hallows said she has one granddaughter who is overweight and whose mother works to help her control her weight by monitoring her food intake and exercise levels. Hallows hopes this will help prevent the weight gain and its inherent emotional and social repercussions. Intermountain Healthcare's Dr. Elizabeth Joy, a family medicine and sports medicine doctor who serves on several boards, said her company offers a program called Intermountain Live that provides materials for children and parents to help prevent and treat obesity.

"I really think that we need to have a really basic understanding of what the consequences of obesity are," Joy said.

In addition to the physical consequences of adolescent diabetes and high blood pressure, obesity can have repercussions socially and affect quality of life. Joy said the best key to prevention is to create an environment to nudge people toward better choices and make those better choices more appealing.

Hallows believes the biggest change a person can make is within themselves. After trying everything from the grapefruit diet in the 60s to weight watchers to laparoscopic gastric bypass, Hallows said she finally has discovered the secret to losing weight — exercise and faithfully following a diet that is easy to maintain long-term.

A recent CDC study showed a decrease in the obesity rate for children K-8 in New York City of 5.5 percent, 20.7 percent in 2010-11, down from 21.9 percent in 2006–07. This drop may be in part because of programs now in place in New York and other states, including Utah. The Utah Department of Health currently has a program in place where schools that meet certain criteria can earn the designation of Gold Medal School.

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