Local experts address childhood obesity

WSUV professor, pediatrician explain how parents can encourage healthful eating

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter


photoAssistant professor of human development at WSUV


In the past three decades, childhood obesity rates have tripled.

Yet only 47 percent of Americans perceive childhood obesity as a serious problem.

In 2008, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

Yet 78 percent of Americans believe society has gone too far by banning chips and sweets in the classroom.

The misconception that the obesity epidemic is exaggerated was one of several misconceptions explained during Washington State University Vancouver’s 2011 Chancellor’s Seminar Series lecture Friday afternoon.

Jane Lanigan, an assistant professor in human development at WSUV, and Dr. Ed Guillery, a pediatrician with Legacy Health, offered their insights and advice at the “Barriers to Raising Healthy-Weight Children” lecture.

10 tips for parents

  1. Share family meals as often as possible.
  2. Emphasize healthful foods.
  3. Do your best to find time to prepare meals.
  4. Eat breakfast every day.
  5. Stop multitasking.
  6. Exercise every day.
  7. Limit or eliminate snacks.
  8. Give kids control over some lifestyle choices.
  9. Do your best to model good behaviors.
  10. Give yourself a break.

— Provided by

Dr. Ed Guillery,


Lanigan recently completed a three-year research project that involved 43 child care and early-learning settings. Her research revealed the misconception about the obesity epidemic being exaggerated.

When Lanigan spoke about the misconception, and shared Centers for Disease Control and Prevention obesity statistics, many of the several dozen lecture attendees were surprised by the extent of the problem, particularly by the rapid increase in prevalence.

In 1980, about 7 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds were considered obese. That rate climbed to nearly 20 percent in 2008, according to the CDC.

“This is not an individual issue,” Lanigan said. “This is a public health issue.”

Another misconception revealed by Lanigan’s research is the idea that adults should control their children’s eating. Not so, Lanigan said.

“Some of these tactics we use will backfire,” she said.

For example, requiring kids to eat their veggies in order to have dessert will only made the dessert more preferred and desired, Lanigan said. The same goes for using sweets as a reward, she said.

Instead, parents should offer the dessert as part of dinner and explain the importance of healthful foods, she said.

Parents should also allow kids to dish up their own plates, which allows them to select types and portions of food they want, Lanigan said.

One of the best ways to encourage children to choose the healthful option is to demonstrate good choices, Guillery said.

“Kids watch what we eat,” he said. “If they see you eat healthy foods, they’re more likely to try it.”

Guillery encourages parents to stop multitasking and eat at the dining room table. He also advocates for eating meals as a family and preparing meals at home as often as possible.

“Our culture encourages us not to cook,” Guillery said. “It’s work. We should be able to go buy a prepared meal.”

As a pediatrician and kidney specialist, Guillery said he sees the effects of childhood obesity.

Every year, 300,000 people die prematurely due to obesity, Guillery said. In addition, 80 percent of people with type II diabetes are overweight or obese, he said.

“It shortens people’s lives,” Guillery said.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com .