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Dr. Katherine Kelly, a behavioral science expert from Wake Forest University, spoke at the Pediatric Healthy Weight Summit in Greenville. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

No Simple Solutions, Experts Say

By Doug Boyd

Researchers gathered in Greenville recently and agreed that despite increased attention, pediatric obesity is only getting more prevalent, and no quick fixes or easy answers exist.

The occasion was the third annual Pediatric Healthy Weight Summit, hosted by the ECU Pediatric Healthy Weight and Treatment Center on March 8.

The event came on the same day the Journal of Pediatrics published a study saying that by 2010, nearly half of all children in North and South America will be overweight, up from about 28 percent today. The study was based on an analysis of obesity from 1980 to 2005 and World Health Organization information.

Joining local experts were Dr. Leah Devlin, state health director; and Dr. Michael Goran, associate director of the Institute for Prevention Research, University of Southern California. The consensus was that Americans – adults and children – are eating more than they need, with too many calories from fat and sugar.

“Food is marketed as a value rather than fuel,” Dr. Katherine Kelly, director of behavioral science at Wake Forest University Medical Center in Winston-Salem, said as she showed slides of candy bar advertisements. “I think there’s too much value put on food … that it’s going to make you feel better.”

Eating less and exercising more are keys to losing weight, but medications are also showing some promise, according to Dr. David Collier, ECU assistant professor of pediatrics and director of the Pediatric Healthy Weight and Treatment Center. In trials, some drugs helped children maintain their weight or lose an additional pound or so over the course of several months. However, Collier said, “lifestyle interventions are effective, likely more effective than medications.”

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 percent of adolescents 12 to 19 years old are overweight. The same percentage of children aged 6 to 11 is overweight. The problem gets worse as they get older. The CDC reports 64 percent of adults 20 and older are overweight or obese.

From 1976 to 1980, 6.5 percent of boys and girls 6 to 11 were overweight, and 5 percent of adolescents 12-19 were heavy. In its 2004 report on the state of the nation’s health, the agency says that while the overall health of Americans continues to improve, “(O)verweight and obesity and physical inactivity among both adults and children are significant risk factors for several chronic diseases, including diabetes, and these indicators have not shown improvement.”

Americans didn’t get fat overnight, and the problem’s not going away quickly, either. But that’s no reason to give up, Kelly said.

“Anything is possible, but it’s going to take a multi-dimensional approach,” she said.

This page originally appeared in the April 17, 2006 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at