We’re delighted to share our latest conversation with Carmella Sebastian, M.D., ”Dr. Carm,” a nationally renowned wellness educator who teaches people how to achieve their greatest wellness potential at every age and life stage. Since September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, we invited Dr. Carm to speak on this important topic.
Q. You were an obese child yourself. Please share your story with us.
In the 4th grade, I was 4 feet tall and 140 pounds. I remember because of all the “4‘s” and the pain. Those measurements, according to the children’s BMI calculator, equal a BMI of 42! 25 is normal and over 30 is obese… well, to say my weight was unhealthy is an understatement.
I often wondered how I got that way. One day, long after the fat was just a memory, my mother and I were looking through a photo album. There were the usual naked baby pictures. Funny thing is, I was skinny. Not, “kid with malnutrition” skinny, but normal weight. I said, “Look at me! I was a skinny baby. What happened?”
My Italian mother, who equated a chubby baby with a healthy one, replied, “Oh, I was so upset with you being skinny. I thought you were sick so I fed you till you looked healthy.”
“You mean the fat was on purpose?”
“Oh, yes, it is amazing how much weight you put on with those milkshakes every night!”
Looking back on my childhood some 40 years ago, I don’t remember any of the other kids in my class being overweight. Let’s just say it set me apart, and not in a good way. Unfortunately, I would have a lot of company today. In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has TRIPLED, from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Today, more than 1/3 of children and adolescents are overweight or obese.
Q. What health risks are associated with obesity in children?
Obesity has both immediate and long-term effects on health and well-being. In the short term, obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, 70% of obese youth (aged 5 to 17 years old) had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
One of the striking developments in pediatric medicine has been the number of children and adolescents that are being diagnosed with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes, conditions which historically have been associated with the elderly.
In the long term, children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many types of cancer including cancer of the breast and colon.
Q. What can we do to reverse this trend?
Genetics, diet, and a sedentary lifestyle are the causes of obesity. Since we cannot change our genetics, healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.
Here are a few simple tips for parents that can go a long way toward preventing obesity and encouraging lifelong healthy eating habits:
- Encourage healthy eating among all members of your family. Don’t bring processed and fat-filled foods into your household. Don’t buy chips, cookies and sugary drinks – which include juices and sports drinks as well as sodas. If these items are not found in your house, neither you nor your kids will consume them while at home.
- Pack your kids’ lunches with lean protein, calcium-rich foods and fruits and veggies. An example of a healthy lunch would be a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread, a small apple or some grapes, cut up veggies with a minimally processed, nutritious dip like hummus, a low fat yogurt with minimal sugar, and a bottle of water.
- Get your children up and out of the house. Get them involved in sports and limit TV time to one hour a day.
I have two teenage daughters, so I know that making changes like this can be easier said than done. But I swore to myself that I would not let them suffer the ridicule that I did as an obese child and certainly would never want to see them unhealthy. Of course, you will get push back. However, if you start early and are diligent, your children will do to you what mine now do to me: critique my food choices and let me know when I stray off course!
About Dr. Carm
Dr. Carmella Sebastian, “Dr. Carm,” was born and raised in Pittston, Pennsylvania and graduated from the Medical College of Pennsylvania with an MD. She earned her Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration from King’s College in Pennsylvania. She is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and was in active clinical practice before joining Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Northeastern Pennsylvania, where she was VP of Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer. She served as Market Medical Officer with Humana for Central and North Florida and joined Florida Blue in 2010. Dr. Carm is a renowned expert in workplace wellness and enjoys WELCOA (Wellness Council of America) certification. At Florida Blue, she oversees the NCQA-accredited wellness program, Better You from Blue, and manages over 70 client consultations per year.
Dr. Carm is a nationally known wellness educator with a special interest in women at mid-life and women’s wellness. She frequently speaks on a range of wellness issues Worksite Wellness 101 and Women’s Wellness: Being the Healthiest You that You Can Be. Dr. Carm is widely admired for her straightforward talk and sense of humor and for offering all in her audience practical, achievable wellness strategies and solutions.
Dr. Carm lives in Tampa with her husband and two daughters, ongoing (and somewhat reluctant) beneficiaries of her wellness wisdom.