New epidemic - Teenage Obesity - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

New epidemic - Teenage Obesity

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February 17, 2003

Albany-- The number of overweight teenagers in America has more than doubled in the last 20 years. Once thought of as only adult diseases - high blood pressure, clogged arteries, and Type II Diabetes- are now plaguing obese teens.

Half of today's overweight kids will never manage to get back to a healthy size, foreshadowing a generation of adults with severe health problems. Ninth grader Jasmine Johnson is part of the nation's 15 percent of overweight teens.

Now she enjoys playing tennis and walking, but just a year ago her lifestyle and her body were much different. "When I came home from school, I would grab a snack and watch TV Sometimes, I would play on the computer or talk on the telephone." Until March, Jasmine faced high school. She knew she wanted to get healthy. Not to get a date or look good, but to save her own life.

"My blood pressure was really high." At 13, her blood pressure hit 170. Her inactive life was slowly leading to her death.

"Today's teens don't get as much exercise. They're too busy to eat right and their parents allow them watch TV and play video games," said Personal Trainer Jeff Wilkerson. Wilkerson says more and more overweight teens come to personal trainers, like himself, to drop unhealthy pounds. Another health problem lead 18 year old Wendell Brooks to Wilkerson's gym just a month a go.

Wendell suffers from diabetes. "I never thought of my self as overweight until my doctor told me I needed to lose fifty pounds." Wendell takes five shots of insulin a day. "I have to take my shots when I eat. If I can shrink my stomach, I won't have to take as much insulin."

Wendell and Jasmine are taking control of their bodies and successfully shedding weight. "Now when I get home from school I go for a walk or play tennis. But, I still like to talk on the phone." "Now I walk on the treadmill, lift weight, and swim five days a week." Jasmine has lost 40 pounds and Wendell, just a month into exercising, already feels more energetic. But what happens when exercise isn't working. The pressure to be thin and the fear of major health problems is leading some teens out of the gym and into the operating room.

Hundreds of obese adults have already turned to Lap Banding surgery to lose weight. Dr. Joseph Burnette explains how the surgery works. "This lap ban in insert into your body laproscopically, the balloon inflates, tightening the pouch of your stomach."

Most patients lose 70 percent of their excess body weight. The chance of death for the procedure is less than .005 percent.

But, Dr. Burnette says the health risk caused from obesity far out way the risk of surgery. "Studies prove that obese people died on average of 13 and a half years early than a person of normal weight." The FDA has only approved the surgery for those 18 and older.

But in Australia young teenagers have successfully undergone Lap Banding. "This would be the surgery of choice for teens in the future." It's so safe." So would our teens consider Lap Banding. Jasmine and Wendell say their stick to exercise and diet to lose weight.

They encourage other overweight teens to save themselves for life threatening disease by taking back their health. Lap Banding surgery costs $17,000, and some insurance policies cover the procedure.

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posted at 12:05PM by dave.miller@walb.com