8-Year-Old, Family Take Steps To Lose Weight, Live Healthier

One in three children is overweight or obese, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls childhood obesity an epidemic with no clear solution.

“Society has changed. Thirty, 40 years ago, people were outside playing all the time. They’re not anymore. They’re focused on TVs or video games or computers,” said Dr. Joanne Taylor, a pediatrician at Dean Clinic.

Those changing times have reshaped the landscape of health care for some of the area’s youngest residents.

Childhood obesity is a complex, multifaceted problem. Doctors said the solution is proper diet and exercise, yet countless children are unable to make and maintain healthy lifestyle changes.

One Madison family hopes to not only shed light on the ups and downs of the challenging journey, but also to inspire other families with a message: that small changes can translate to success.

“When we went to the doctor and she was told by Dr. Trias that it was a critical point, she was in the room and she cried,” said Jennifer Wharton, mother to 8-year-old Kylie, of Kylie being diagnosed as obese.

“I didn’t want to be that girl. I wanted to be healthier,” said Kylie.

It’s tough to imagine walking in the now-second-grader’s shoes.

“It was pretty obvious her growth was a little too fast and a little too quick for her age,” said Dr. Michael Trias, Kylie’s pediatrician at Dean Clinic. “What I’ve seen from Jennifer and Kylie is that they’re both aware and they’re both committed to being healthier.”

This past fall, Kylie’s weight peaked at more than double the average weight for 8-year-olds. Her family said that children as young as 5, 6 and 7 couldn’t see Kylie’s infectious smile, her love for dance and her enthusiasm for life; all they could see was a bigger child and an opportunity to point out her weight.

“I was bullied at school and that’s what made me eat more when I came home, and I didn’t feel right,” said Kylie.

Kylie said one encounter with a classmate sticks out.

“At gym class, she was in second grade and I was in first grade and she said, ‘You’re a big, fat pumpkin.’ And I didn’t like it,” Kylie said.

Doctors said Kylie isn’t the only child to face such emotional journeys.

“Any obese child is going to have some poor self-esteem and probably go through some depression. These are the kids who are teased by their peers, and they’re the ones feeling bad about themselves,” said Taylor.

“There’s a huge psychological impact in this, and trying to find the right balance of when you’re ready to talk about it or ready to make changes; it can be a very touchy situation,” Trias said.

Depression is just one of several problems associated with weight gain, according to Trias.

“This is a multi-factorial problem. There isn’t one easy solution for it. It’s a problem that takes a lot of hard work and commitment to change,” Trias said.

Doctors at Dean Clinic said they want parents and children to think about the choices they make during mealtime. Experts said obesity may be linked to other lethal diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and even asthma.

“We don’t want it to get to the point where they’re teenagers and they’ve already developed bad eating habits and lack of exercise,” Trias said.

“I don’t want her to grow up like that and be heavy. It’s hard enough — kids are mean enough, and I don’t want her to go through that,” said Jennifer Wharton.

Kylie has lost nine pound since switching schools last fall.

“Do I feel guilty? Yeah I do, but she has my makeup, my genes and, right now, we’ve got a hold on it. And so I can’t dwell on it. I have to move forward with it now,” said Jennifer Wharton.

As a family, the Whartons have empowered Kylie to exercise, create and maintain her own healthy eating habits. The family doesn’t use the word “diet.”

“We call it — what do we call it?” asked Jennifer Wharton.

“Eating healthy,” replied Kylie.

As a family, the Whartons have incorporated sugar-free foods into their daily meals and have limited snack sizes. The family said small changes can translate to success and Kylie’s road to health and wellness is breathing new life in the family as a whole.

“I feel as proud as the day that I delivered her,” said Jennifer Wharton.

Doctors also warn that the numbers on the scale don’t tell the whole story.

“I think when we talk to kids like Kylie, it’s not about what the ideal body weight is. I don’t tell patients, ‘You need to be X amount of pounds,'” said Trias.

Small changes can lead to big differences, but doctors said parents need to be an example by being willing to make life-altering changes themselves.

“I think if the parents do these things, it’s more likely the kids will follow, so I really have to get the parents on board because they’re the ones who take care of bringing the food at home; they’re the ones who schedule the activities,” Trias said.

WISC-TV and Dean Clinic are teaming up for a yearlong project called “Time For Kids: Recipe For Health.” It will include a series of special reports focusing on childhood obesity in the community and what families can do to make healthy changes.

For more information, go to www.DeanCare.com/TimeForKids and visit Channel 3000’s special section on childhood obesity.