Spring 2015
Resident Round-Up

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Rebecca Scherr discusses a case with pediatric residents

Addressing obesity

Rebecca Scherr, M.D., right, discusses a case with pediatric residents, from left to right, Munira Rahman, D.O., Ashley Bechtol, M.D., and Lynsey Zuar, D.O. Photo by Edgar Antonio Núñez.

Reaching children, parents to improve healthy lifestyles

Story by Anne McMillin, APR

In celebration of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month last September, the University of Nevada School of Medicine’s pediatrics department in Las Vegas reached out to the third annual Healthy Kids Festival to provide health assessments for children in attendance.

The event provided children and their families with information about healthy eating and healthy activity choices while raising awareness about childhood obesity issues within the community. Parents and families filled the day with fun activities and healthy eating demonstrations, music and entertainment, sports exhibitions, games and other fun and educational activities. Children danced, played soccer, tried Zumba, saw martial arts demonstrations and learned how to grow their own foods.

Rebecca Scherr, M.D., School of Medicine pediatric gastroenterologist and several of the department’s residents, including Ashley Bechtol, M.D., offered weight, height and body mass index (BMI) measurements for children while discussing healthy behavior with parents in attendance. They were assisted by pre-med undergraduate students from UNLV.

While providing a service to the community, the festival also gave residents the opportunity to train in a non-clinical environment.

“(The festival) allowed residents to work together as a team and figure out an efficient system to help as many children as possible during the fair,” Bechtol said of the value to her of participating in the festival.

During their assessments of children, several anecdotal observations emerged.

“There were many children who were either overweight or obese. It was a shock to the parents to see how elevated their child’s BMI plotted in relation to their peers,” Bechtol said.

Scherr added that behaviors are the top factor relating to childhood obesity and by and large, children with normal BMI had more healthful behaviors than their peers with higher BMI readings. Examples of healthy behaviors include less screen time, less fast food consumption and lowering sugary beverage intake.

Families, especially parents, were extremely interested in getting healthy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle by finding ways to improve their eating or exercise habits, according to Scherr. Hispanic families were particularly inquisitive about improving nutrition and exercise regimes.

The free festival, sponsored by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s All 4 Kids© Program and Clark County Parks and Recreation Department, was held Paradise Park in Las Vegas.

According to event organizers, reaching out and empowering families of young children is key to the success of healthy living. Parents and families learned techniques for supporting and modeling positive and healthy eating habits while incorporating physical activity in their young children’s daily routines.

“The community was receptive to changing behaviors and lifestyles to decrease the obesity epidemic. Practicing preventative medicine in pediatrics is needed to prevent further health problems in our patients with elevated BMIs,” Bechtol said.

She added that it was meaningful for the School of Medicine to participate in the festival to educate the community and give advice to the parents and children at risk.

“It was important to connect with the families and explain future problems that are likely to arise with childhood obesity.”

Scherr said the department is doing similar educational outreach efforts at local elementary schools by working in partnership with the American Heart Association’s Teaching Garden project.

“We teach the science and nutritional aspects of healthy lifestyles through the process of planting, growing and eating garden food,” Scherr explained, adding that children’s interest and enthusiasm in science seems to jump significantly when they learning using hands-on experiences like the teaching garden.