The percentage of overweight and obese children and adolescents in the United States is
alarming, leaving a high percentage of children and adolescents prone to developing chronic
diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Obesity now affects about 17
percent of U.S. children and adolescents (or 12.5 million from ages 9 to 19)—that’s triple the
obesity rate from just one generation ago!
North Carolina is no exception. Consider these statistics from Eat Smart, Move More North
• North Carolina has the 5th highest childhood obesity rate in the nation.
• Nearly one out of three (33%) children ages 10-17 in North Carolina is overweight or
Childhood overweight and obesity is putting today’s youth on a trajectory to becoming the first
generation to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents. Early interventions are key to
reversing this trend, and pediatrician-parent relationships are an important tool.
“We need to remember our role as healthcare providers throughout many transitions for children
and their parents,” says Eliana Perrin, MD, MPH, a leading authority in the prevention of obesity
in children, who conducts her research at UNC’s Department of Pediatrics. “First, we can
promote healthy habits from the beginning of life. So many very young infants are put in front
of the television, strapped away from play space, encouraged to eat unhealthy foods like french-
fries, and given juice and soda early in life. As children grow up, we need to help them combat
the toxic environment and help them find healthy dietary options and good options for play and
sports--options that don’t stigmatize them and create a vicious cycle.
Perrin researches how pediatricians can best help young people achieve healthy weight
trajectories. She has investigated the benefits of body mass index (BMI) screening and barriers to
physicians’ use of appropriate methods for obesity prevention and treatment.
“We really want to learn the ways parents and pediatricians can have good conversations
together that help prevent obesity—conversations that will motivate healthy behavior change
without making children or their families feel judged or stigmatized,” says Perrin.
She also studies physical activity like sports and the relationship between culture and obesity.