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SUNDAY, DEC. 11, 2011

Smart Bombs: Docs, weigh in on obesity

You’ve probably heard of the obesity epidemic among children, and the likely causes: junk food, video games and a general lack of exercise. But here are a couple more reasons that you may not know: Many parents don’t think their chubby kids are overweight, and the chances that their pediatricians will break the news to them are slim and none.

Dr. Aaron Carroll, an associate professor of pediatrics and the associate director of Children’s Health Services Research at Indiana University, shares the sobering news at his excellent health care blog, The Incidental Economist.

First up is a study conducted from 1999 to 2008 in which nearly 5,000 parents of overweight children ages 2 to 15 are asked whether their pediatricians told them that their kids have a weight problem. A mere 22 percent said yes.

Ah, but does this really matter since the parents must know that their kids need to lose weight? Bad assumption, says Carroll, who points to another study conducted at the University of Utah.

Parents were asked to classify their children on a scale of “extremely underweight” to “extremely overweight.” All of the parents of obese children (95th percentile or above on the Body Mass Index) classified them as healthier than they were. None of them picked “extremely overweight.” Three-fourths of parents whose kids were in the 85th to 95th percentile range labeled them “about right” or “underweight.”

Health professionals need to tell parents when children are overweight, especially when they are obese. It might seem obvious, but for whatever reason many parents are deceiving themselves. Yes, it can be a difficult conversation, but so is telling someone they have diabetes or any other chronic condition related to obesity.

As a public policy matter, the increase in obesity is running up big bills for all of us. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-third of adults are dangerously overweight. The cost of our nation’s supersizing is up to $270 billion a year, according to USA Today. As a result, overweight American workers are missing more work and running up larger medical bills. Employers then spread the costs to all workers. Government budgets feel the impact, too.

To reverse this trend, Americans need to be educated on what is considered a healthy weight. And that conversation needs to begin as soon as a child steps off the scale at the doctor’s office.

A den divided. It seems the nation’s political battles extend to remote controls, too. The media research firm Experian Simmons conducted a yearlong survey in which conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats were asked to name their favorite television shows, excluding news, sports and music programs.

There wasn’t a single show that made both top 25 lists, according to a Washington Post article. The liberals’ top choice was “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” The conservatives’ favorite was “Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction.” There goes any hope of support for a millionaire tax.

No fictional programs make it atop the conservatives’ list, with the possible exception of “The 700 Club.” Otherwise, it was “This Old House,” “Swamp Loggers” and “Top Shot” rounding out the top five. Topical humor is the liberals’ dominant theme.

The good news for public television is that “New Yankee Workshop” and “Antiques Roadshow” were rated high by conservatives, giving PBS three shows on the Republicans’ list. Looks like that public funding is safe.

Other differences in the top 25 were:

Late night: Liberals, David Letterman. Conservatives, Jay Leno.

Comedy: Liberals, “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Modern Family.” Conservatives, “Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy.”

Crime and Punishment: Conservatives, four shows. Liberals, none.

Auctions, antiques and junk: Conservatives four shows. Liberals, none – though I wavered on whether “The View” is in this category.

History Channel: Conservatives, five shows. Liberals, none.

Gay and lesbian themes: Liberals, three shows. Conservatives, none.

Swamp settings: Conservatives, two shows. Liberals, none.

Male dominated: Liberals, seven shows. Conservatives, 22 – or 21, if you think Vanna White was hired for her mastery of the alphabet.

On a final note, “Jersey Shore” didn’t make either list. So there’s still hope for the country.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter at @GaryCrooks.

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