- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

PITTSBURGH — Diane Nellis was worried about the health of her teenage son, who weighed 240 pounds. But she didn’t put him on a diet. Or send him to a fat camp.

She took him to a hospital.

There, Trevor Nellis, 17, learned to limit portions to the size of his fist, cut out fast food and soda, and eat more fruits and vegetables. Six months later, he has lost nearly 40 pounds and runs three miles a day.

As the waistlines of America’s young keep expanding, more hospitals are establishing weight-management centers for youths. The programs offer a variety of resources, from nutritional counseling to bariatric surgery for the most extreme cases.

“We try to promote healthy behavior for a lifetime,” said Dr. Goutham Rao, clinical director of the Weight Management and Wellness Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where Trevor got help.

Dr. Rao said that when the hospital began planning for the clinic about three years ago, there were about half a dozen similar programs across the country. Now, there are around 50 and more on the way, he said.

The clinics are opening at a time of skyrocketing obesity rates among U.S. children. Nearly 1 out of 5 is obese, according to government figures, putting them at a greater risk for diabetes, heart disease and a host of other problems.

Dr. Sandra Hassink, director of the weight-management program at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., said she’s seen patients getting younger and heavier since she helped start the program 18 years ago. Her youngest patient was 5 months old.

“It’s scary, and we’re going to end up with young adults who should be healthy who are bearing the burden of a chronic illness,” she said.

Children usually aren’t shopping for food or making decisions about what to eat for dinner, said Dr. Christopher Bolling of Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center.

“You’re not going to have any success if you approach just the child, because the child doesn’t have complete regulation over the environment. You have to go after the family,” said Dr. Bolling, medical director for the Cincinnati hospital’s weight-management center.

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