GREENEVILLE, TN – As a chubby child and later as a heavy teen, Tim Fuller experienced first hand the difficulties of being overweight.
He vividly recalls the hurtful comments tossed his way.
“I can remember going to a baseball game and hitting a home run, and when I made it to home, this guy said I looked like a fat tornado going around the bases,” Fuller said. “There is a lot of stigma involved.”
At 14, although thinner, he remained on the upper end of the weight charts for his height. “At this point, I developed an injury to my growth plate on my hip, and I believe my weight influenced that,” Fuller said. “I wasn’t ‘fat’ at the time, but I was still heavy for my age.”
A few years later, Fuller joined the Army. “It really helped me keep my weight under control,” he said.
Since then, Fuller has developed healthy eating habits and a regular exercise program, keeping his weight in the normal range. “I grew up in an environment where we all overate,” he recalled. “My parents were obese, my brother. Overeating was just part of my life, growing up.”
Now, as a pediatric physician, Fuller is eager to help prevent childhood obesity. Fuller, a physician with the Medical Group of Greeneville Children’s Center, gave a PowerPoint presentation on the topic Wednesday as part of the monthly “Time Out For Your Health” lecture-luncheon series at Takoma Adventist Hospital.
“Childhood obesity is like being chained, being restricted, being in bondage,” he told the crowd at the Everett and Carolyn Coolidge Volunteer Conference Center
Childhood obesity is the leading cause of pediatric hypertension and is associated with Type II diabetes, arthritis, snoring, sleep apnea, and gallstones. It also increases the risk of coronary heart disease, and causes stress on weight-bearing joints, Fuller noted.
“Studies have shown that children and adolescents who are severely obese have lower health-related quality of life than their healthy peers, and they have a similar quality of life as those diagnosed with cancer,” Fuller said. “That means that obese children have a similar self-image to those with a terminal disease.”
The father of three children, Fuller advocates a healthy lifestyle for the entire family. “You have to teach them by example,” he said. “Kids will always make the wrong choice when it comes to eating healthy. They’ll choose sweets over healthier alternatives because it tastes better.”
Fuller also offered these recommendations for developing a healthy lifestyle for your child:
· Choose fruits and vegetables over chips, candy, crackers and cookies. “It is all making wise choices,” Fuller said.
· Limit dairy consumption to only two servings a day. This includes sources such as milk, yogurt and cheese.
· Drink water instead of juice and soft drinks. “In East Tennessee, did you know that water doesn’t exist,” he joked, noting that few people seem to drink it. “Sodas add empty calories, are more expensive than water, rot your teeth, and have been linked with hypertension.”
· Any dietary changes should be embraced by the entire family, not just the overweight child. “The same thing for exercise,” he said. “If you’re sitting on the couch watching TV and telling your child to go outside and exercise, why would he? You need to get the entire family involved.”
Fuller recommends that children exercise for an hour a day, every day. “And I mean aerobic exercise – that involves running or jumping,” he said.
Soccer and basketball are ideal sports for children. “And if you have an overweight child, don’t let them be the goalie in soccer,” Fuller noted. “They need to be out there running.”
Another fun alternative is to play a new video game called “Dance Dance Revolution” – or “DDR” -- which has players dancing vigorously on a 3-foot square platform. “This is sweeping the nation,” Fuller said. “It has kids dancing in front of the TV for hours.”
· Limit TV, video games and Internet surfing. “Limit TV to 1-2 hours a day,” Fuller said. “Don’t let them eat in front of the TV, and don’t use a remote to watch TV. Get up between commercials if you want to change the channel.”
· Don’t allow a TV, VCR or video games in a child’s room. “It’s a bad idea all the way around,” Fuller said. “There’s no good reason for them to have it. They’ll stay up late; you won’t know what they’re watching. It also keeps them from playing outside.”
· Watch hidden calories from sports drinks. “Sports drinks are not healthy for you,” Fuller noted. “Unless you’re an athlete, and 99 percent of us aren’t, you don’t need them. A Big Mac has the same calories as a Gatorade. Sports drinks are meant for sports. Don’t drink them unless you are exercising enough to need them.”
· Do not use food as a reward. “How often do people offer ice cream, pizza or Happy Meals as a treat,” he asked. “Kids who see food as a reward will always see food as a reward, even as adults.”
· Parents should be role models for healthy habits. “Make good habits a family tradition,” Fuller said. “Eat healthy foods with your child and exercise together.”
· Don’t find excuses to avoid exercise. “Have an alternative plan for exercise, despite the weather or time of day,” he said. “How often have you heard people say, ‘It’s too hot’ or ‘It’s too cold’ or ‘The pollen’s up’ or ‘I’ll start it when the time changes.’ You can always find an excuse.”
For more information, please call the Children’s Center at 428 E. Vann Road, Greeneville, at 636-2393. Fuller is available for dietary consultations for children and adolescents. His office hours are Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Friday 9 a.m.-noon.