One Child At A Time
Dr. Vickie Pyevich, pediatric cardiologist, recently conducted tours of Genesis Medical Center, East, and worked with young students about being heart smart.
The first signs of a disconcerting development in her practice came when Vickie Pyevich, M.D., began noticing that not all of her pediatric cardiology patients were being treated for a congenital heart issue.
Her experience had been that nearly all of her patients were born with a heart abnormality. They certainly weren’t developing future heart problems through their own lifestyle.
Several years ago she noticed a shift, however. Young patients were coming to her with high body mass indexes (BMI), elevated cholesterol levels and pre-hypertension.
“It used to be that my entire practice was made up of children with congenital heart issues. More and more, I’ m seeing patients with health issues related to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle,’’ Pyevich said. “I’m prescribing medications for high cholesterol and for pre-diabetes patients and these are just children.
“We’re seeing an amazing increase in the number of young children who are on a dangerous path because of their weight. Our children are at risk for early cardiovascular disease and are in immediate need of education in order to prevent early death directly resulting from obesity.’’
Pyevich, a University of Iowa pediatric cardiologist who also practices at the Genesis Heart Institute, did not wait for someone else to do something about the problem she was seeing. With the financial assistance of the Genesis Health Services Foundation, Dr. Pyevich developed a pilot childhood obesity prevention program of nutrition and lifestyle information. The program was launched at Grant Wood Elementary School in Bettendorf.
Students in the program at schools attend a series of three nutrition classes.
Children are also assessed on their nutritional knowledge before and after the nutrition classes.
“The problem with increasing childhood obesity is pretty complex,’’ Pyevich said. “First, most children are not getting enough exercise, which may be related to their home situations. Second, they are uninformed about good nutrition partly because they are being inundated by messages about bad nutrition. The way snacks and fast food are advertised certainly is a factor in how children eat.’’
Pyevich said a generational shift in family lifestyles is also a factor in the increase in childhood obesity. If both parents in a family are working, children may go home after school with instructions to stay at home rather going out to play.
“So much has changed. It used to be that children might disappear for an entire day playing outside until dinner or darkness. But someone was at home for them. Because of some of the well-publicized dangers of not knowing where are children are, we’re more protective and that can mean less activity outside the home and more sedentary activity inside the home like television and video games,’’ Dr. Pyevich said. “That is what makes the issue complicated and probably difficult to correct.’’
Pyevich would like to see the nutrition program expanded to more elementary schools in the region and there are already schools asking to implement the program.
"We think it has been an excellent program. We have seen the results with kids who have been through the program who know much more about being fit and eating well after they are introduced to the program,'' said Joe Girsch, physical education teacher at Grant Wood school. "You can see that they are making better choices in their food and have a much better idea of the importance of the food groups.
"It has been a fun program because you can see the results, even after a summer away from school.''
Gifts to the Genesis Health Services Foundation provide funds for important programs that benefit children throughout the Quad Cities. To learn more about how your gifts can have an impact on the health of children, call (563) 421-6865.