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Youngsters Take Charge of Food, Weight

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We've all heard the issue: Today's kids, reared on supersized fries and Nintendo, are heading into dangerous territory. As the pounds on their scales rise, their chances for a healthy adulthood seem to plummet.

But as children, they often don't have control over their diets and lifestyle. Their parents do the grocery shopping and make decisions about dining out.

The experts, naturally, have all weighed in on the subject, but we decided it was time to ask the real experts - the kids themselves.

Four area youngsters who've successfully lost weight offered to share their tips. All consulted with their doctors along the way.

Meredith Matthews, 11, is a sixth grader at Tippecanoe Central in Tipp City. Meredith decided, on her own, that she needed to change her habits. You hear about older people getting obese and their health problems and I didn't want that to happen to me,'' says Meredith, whose older sister is diabetic.So I wanted to take care of it now.'' She's lost 20 pounds since June and would now like to maintain her weight.

James Purvis, 12, is a seventh grader at Spinning Hills Middle School in Riverside. A diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes in May spurred James and his family to re-evaluate their eating and exercise habits. He's lost 30 pounds since then, and continues to lose.

Patrick Gavin, 9, is in fourth grade at Precious Blood School and lives in Brookville. When his doctor suggested he take off a few pounds, Patrick made up his mind to do it. He has lost 24 pounds since May and wants to lose a few pounds more. ``I wanted to live in a healthier style,'' he says.

Jessica West, 14, lives in Franklin and is being home-schooled. Jessica was hospitalized in August at Children's Medical Center for a number of health problems and was referred to Dr. Daniel Preud'homme and his Lipid Clinic at the hospital. ``He just wanted to get me to a healthy weight because I have an enlarged heart and some liver problems,'' says Jessica, who began exercising and dieting at the hospital. She's lost 33 pounds since August and continues to lose.

QUESTION: How are you eating differently since you started trying to lose weight? Do you think of yourselves on diets?

Meredith: Before this, I ate the way all kids eat. When I was younger I never watched fats and calories. But now, when I go to McDonald's, I don't get a Big Mac and large french fries. I limit my portions.

It's not that you can't eat things, but you can learn to limit them to smaller portions and don't eat it all the time. Instead of eating cake whenever you want, for example, eat it once a week. I like the way I eat now and I've learned to like healthier foods. I always thought broccoli would be nasty, but my sister made me eat it once and now I like it. It's good.

Jessica: I can eat anything I want, but I have to watch my carbohydrates and measure out my meat now. I used to eat junk food - cheeseburgers and fries. Now I eat more vegetables and soups. I don't miss the junk food because I can eat it two days each week. If I couldn't eat it at all, I would miss it a little. Now some weeks I don't eat it at all.

My advice is to eat what you want but not too much of it - don't eat bad foods all the time.

Meredith: I don't look at it as a diet, but as a healthier lifestyle. A diet you go on for a while, but I think of it now as something to build my life around.

QUESTION: How do you control what foods are available, and how do you know which foods to eat?

Meredith: It helps to keep junk foods away from your house and to be aware of the fats and calories in food, especially fast food. Keep a notebook to write down what you eat. Pay attention when you're full. And setbacks are just something to overcome.

Patrick: I'd suggest you read labels on the back of food, cut back on sugar bubble gum and on foods like potato chips and greasy food. I don't eat anything that has over 16 grams of sugar in it. And I go by the food guide pyramid. I like fruit - pears, apples, bananas.

Jessica: I have to watch my carbs, and I can only have so much meat. Now I measure stuff; before I would eat constantly. Now I don't eat as much, and I don't want to eat every half hour. I think it was just a bad habit I couldn't break.

QUESTION: What role has exercise played in your weight loss and what kind of exercises do you do?

Meredith: I dreaded it at first, but I've learned to like it and now it's fun! I have a YMCA membership and I swim there and get on the treadmill and do crunches and weights. I try to do it for an hour or an-hour-and-a-half every day. Kids might want to look into a youth membership at the Y.

I was in dancing, and now I'm in cheerleading. I'd urge kids to get into sports - up until the past year I wasn't active in any sports.

Patrick: I got a lawn mower for my birthday, and now I go out and mow the lawn. I swim laps at the Vandalia Recreation Center. And I never get tired of riding my bike. At school, I have gym two days a week and we jog and do sit-ups. We also had a dog named Patches, and me and my dad would take him for walks. If you know you're eating more, you can try to exercise afterwards.

James: I play football, and I ride my bike now more and do sit-ups. I think you should pick the things you want to do because you'll keep doing those and stay with it. Otherwise, you'll get sick of it.

Jessica: I go to the Springboro Y twice a day and walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes each time. It helps to find something to distract you. I read a word search book or watch television while I'm on the treadmill.

I think kids should consider going to the Y. It helps me because when I get there, I know I have to do my 20 minutes, and if I'm at home I might decide to stop at anytime.

QUESTION: What role do family and friends play in your success?

Jessica: When I started getting older, I seemed to keep gaining weight and I just couldn't lose. I would play basketball and baseball, but I would still gain weight and I tried different diets but nothing helped.

I don't think I could have done it on my own, but I'd like other kids to know that if you can't seem to get yourself to do it, there is help out there, and there is a doctor out there who cares about them. It's his passion.

Meredith: My mom needed to go on a low-fat diet, also, because of cholesterol. Now I go grocery shopping with my mother, and she supports me. She has cut back and is eating healthier, too.

I think parents can also help by encouraging their kids to get into sports and taking the time to drop them off and pick them up.

Patrick: Our family doesn't eat as much. My dad helps me with the mowing. He put a lock on the snack cabinet, and it helps. I had a couple of friends who kept talking to me about food - cake and fries - and I felt it was unfair.

Jessica: I don't look at it as a diet, but as a healthier lifestyle. A diet you go on for a while, but I think of it now as something to build my life around. My family and friends have been so supportive. My granny from Tennessee fixes greasy, fried things, and gravies, but she's been real good. Now if she's fixing a pork loin, she uses my (healthier) butters rather than lard.

I think if kids have people who aren't being supportive, they should be honest and tell them that they're doing something to try to help themselves.

James: The main helper is parents. They help me measuring my food. It was hard at first, but it's easier.

QUESTION: So what's different about your lives now?

James: People tell me I look thinner now.

Meredith: I like the way I eat now. I've learned to like healthy foods. Instead of watching television now, I'll read a book. I didn't like reading before. Finding other things to do is a good idea. I'd advise other kids to motivate themselves to lose the weight. It's really about you - not what others say or think.

Jessica: My attitude toward myself is better. I want to do more stuff, go more places.

Patrick: I feel good, healthier, and I don't eat as much junk food. When there are cakes at a birthday party and food all around, I just go out of the room for a little bit, then I come back for the presents.

When I went back to school, my friends saw me and said: ``Patrick, wow! You look thinner!'' And they asked me how I'd lost it. I said my Mom didn't make me, and the doctor didn't put me on pills. I just did it on my own.

And I've worked so hard to lose weight, I don't want to gain it back.


(The Cox web site is at )

c.2003 Cox News Service

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