From the Editor’s Keyboard

The Road to Wellness

21 December 2015 at 05:18 | 1709 views

By Dr. Nanah Sheriff Fofanah-Sesay, Guest Writer, Virginia, USA.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the impact of obesity among adolescents from personal experience through my youngest son and to emphasize steps that can be taken to alleviate this disease.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2015), childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The percentage of adolescents ages 12-19 years who were obese increased from 5% in 1980 to nearly 21% in 2012 (CDC, 2015). The World Health Organization (WHO) noted the prevalence of obesity and overweight among children at 11.1% and 14.3% respectively (International Epidemiology Association, 2015). Some of the psychological impact of obesity among adolescents are: low self-esteem, body image disturbances and lack of self-motivation. The long-term complications of obesity among this age group includes but not limited to: risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, and premature illness, and death later in life.

However, with prevention and adherence to modalities geared towards eliminating this epidemic, this disease can be controlled or eradicated. This statistics and sequelas are noted to inform readers of this article that my son’s battle with obesity is by no means an isolated case.

My son (name withheld) is a vibrant 16 year-old who loves the tenacity of contact sports as well as high level forms of physical exercises. However, at age 14 years, he began to experience a gradual but steady accumulation of body fat in the setting of 4-5 days of participation in school physical activities and weekend walks in the neighborhood. This increased weight gain persisted and by age 15, he was weighing 200 pounds. Attributing this weight gain to growth spurts, the phenomenon became less concerning. By the age of 16 years, his weight amounted to 300 pounds and by then he was experiencing symptoms of fatigue, was somewhat withdrawn, and lacked motivation to exercise while simultaneously consuming high calorie food and drink.

Like most adolescents, the inability to engage in one’s favorite activities can be disappointing. My son positively anticipates our annual visits to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania where he normally takes on the mid to high level roller coasters and other high stress level rides. This anticipation was blunted by his excess weight which prevented him from engaging on some of his most enjoyable rides.

For the sake of clarity, my family and I were at Hershey Park on August 8th and 9th 2015. While in the park, I convinced my youngest son to join me in one of the mid-level non-roller coaster rides for which he agreed. As the ride began to advance in midair, he began to yell loudly and the yelling got progressively worse as the ride advanced further. This caused the ride operator to abort the ride and to my surprise and everyone else’s on the ride, the ride began to descend instead of advancing up. As the ride reaches ground level, my son and I were approached by four staff members, three of whom were checking on his well-being while the other was interviewing me about his general health. I was able to alleviate their fears by telling them that he usually makes this sort of noises during rides to decrease the unsettling feelings caused by rides. I further reassured them that he is in good health and with that, the ride was restarted. At the end of this ride, he reported feeling dizzy, he was mildly diaphoretic, and his breathing was faster than usual. Realizing what is at stake, I opted out of participating on some of our most enjoyable roller coasters for less stress provoking rides. Even with this modification, my son continue to become symptomatic with some of these rides as evidenced by complaints of headaches, thirst, mild shortness of breath, dizziness, and fatigue. Saying this worries me is an understatement; however, with all these challenges, we were able to spend the whole day in the park and were later shuttled to the hotel for day 2 of our vacation.

While in the hotel, I requested the use of the computer room as I usually do to participate in Blackboard, but with school now behind me, I needed this space to reflect on what had happened in the park in relation to my son, the negative effect of obesity, the potential complication of obesity, and to implement certain modalities to halt this disturbing progression. By the time my seclusion in the computer room was over, I had a concrete plan on how to help my son lose the excess fat and regain his normal life.

Upon our return to Northern Virginia, I made contact with LA Fitness Gymnasium and enrolled him for daily exercises at an initial enrollment fee of $ 260 and a monthly rate of $29. He was weighing 320 pounds upon enrollment to LA Fitness and with seven days of daily exercises, adherence to eating frequent small meals, drinking water instead of sweet drinks, and less caloric food intake, he lost 20 pounds in 8 weeks.

Realizing the slow progression of this weight loss, the company suggested that I further enroll him into a personal fitness training program which involves working with a dietician and a personal coach to enhance further weight loss. The offer was accepted with open arms at an enrollment fee of $ 360 and a monthly rate of $ 180. Since enrollment in the combined programs, he has lost an additional 20 pounds in 6 weeks bringing his current weight to 280 pounds. The target weight loss for him is 150 pounds with the realization that he still has a long way to go. The progression and actual production of results from this programs is comforting and brings hope for a life of sound wellness for my son.