LEWISTOWN - Childhood obesity is becoming a notable problem in the area, and as a result, schools and health services are taking measures to combat it.
According to state public health statistics, more than 400,000 adolescents and children are obese in Pennsylvania.
Obesity has immediate and long-term health effects for children and adolescents. Childhood obesity is the result of various genetic, behavioral and environmental factors, according to the Center for Disease Control.
According to the CDC, childhood obesity significantly raises the risk for high blood pressure and cholesterol. Obese adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes, bone or joint problems, sleep apnea and poor self-esteem. In a population-based sample of children ages 5 to 17, 70 percent had at least one of these risk factors, according to the CDC. The CDC states that children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults and are subject to the risks that entails.
The Geisinger Lewistown Clinic runs a "Get Fit" program for children younger than 18 years old that are referred to the clinic by their pediatrician because of their weight. The program weighs the kids, gives them an information binder to record their meals, provides healthy recipes, gives tips and tricks to stay healthy and encourages them to do physical activities.
"We're not here to punish them if they don't lose weight, it's about lifestyle changes," said Emilee Geedey, PA-C and one of the providers of the program.
Geedey said that studies indicate higher rates of obesity in rural areas, like Mifflin and Juniata counties, because parents buy foods that are cheaper and easier.
Norah Zook, LPN and another provider of the program, said a lot of kids in the program have lost weight or at least made healthier life choices. She said the kids in the program are comfortable with them because of how regularly they see them and the kids get really excited when they've lost weight. The children are more willing to participate in sports or activities outside the program than they were previously.
"Coming back here every month gives us a goal," said Kaitlyn and Madisyn, patients in the program.
The girls said they try not to gain more than five pounds for every inch they grow. They said it's different for kids these days because electronics keep kids interested and prevent them from going outside. Both girls are very active in various sports activities since starting the program about two years ago.
Geedey said that type 2 diabetes is much more common in children than ever before because of obesity. She said childhood obesity in the area has gone up substantially during the past five years.
Zook said the reason many kids and adolescents don't succeed in losing weight or making healthier choices is because the whole family isn't on board. If the family isn't very supportive or concerned with the child's eating habits or activity level, then the child has less motivation to change.
"If parents are obese, then children are more likely to be - it's a vicious cycle," Zook said.
Both providers agreed that portion sizes are much larger now, which encourages kids to overeat.
"She (Kaitlyn) had large portions and it seemed like she never got full," Kaitlyn's mother said.
Christine Ammon, the general manager of food services of Juniata County School District, said the food program at the schools is encouraging kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. She said she does observe students making healthier choices because they must choose at least one fruit or vegetable with their entree for it to count as a meal.
"However, food waste has increased due to students not eating all food items, mainly the fruits and vegetables," said Ammon.
Matthew Kern, a physical education teacher at Mifflin County Middle School, said the school tries to encourage more physical activity by playing non-traditional sports. He said these are sports that aren't expensive, like shooting games for basketball, and encourage kids to participate with friends or family outside of school.
"Activity level in kids is really low and there has been less and less kids involved in recreational activity," said Kern.
He said the physical education program in the Mifflin County School District runs really well, and the administration gets the equipment the school needs to help kids try out different sports. The focus of the physical education program at the middle school is to give children enough skill to participate in physical activities they can do at home.
Parents concerned about their child's health or activity level can call the Geisinger Lewistown Clinic at 242-4200 to schedule an appointment. Appointments can be scheduled on Wednesday afternoons each week. Children don't need to be a patient to enter the program but they do need to have a risk factor for insurance to cover the cost. The Geisinger Lewistown Clinic is located at 21 Geisinger Lane, Lewistown.