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Weight woes motivate pre-teens and teens to take drastic action

Youth Becoming Healthy programs are in eight Southwest Georgia skills, motivating kids to exercise

Georgia ranks second in the nation with the highest amount of childhood obesity, and according to healthcare centers in the state, it's still rising.

But with some teens and pre-teens believing weight loss is do-or-die, they aren't always choosing the healthiest route.

"Diet pills, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, just different things like that and starvation diets which are eventually very harmful to the body," says Pediatrician Dr. Tania Smith.

According to a 2006 CBS News report, "extremely overweight" 12- to 16-year-olds were taking the diet pill Meridia and dropping the weight.

Teenagers are also turning to surgery. Children's Healthcare of Atlanta is performing 15 weight-loss surgeries per year on children.

Head Surgeon at Palmyra Medical Dr. John Bagnato says he's performed the Lap Band procedure on numerous teens in the past.

"The surgery is very safe. A teenager who's obese, particularly if they have diabetes, they're at much greater risk not having the surgery than having the surgery to begin with. It becomes an easy medical decision," says Dr. Bagnato.

Lap Band is a surgery that creates a smaller stomach pouch. Many insurance companies won't pay for the procedure for teens because it hasn't been approved by the FDA yet. It is expected to be approved by FDA in 2011.

"There have been several studies that have come out recently showing its safety and its effectiveness, but they have to bring it to the FDA to get formal approval," says Dr. Bagnato.

Dr. Bagnato says even though Lap Band isn't marketing the surgery for patients under 18, he can still perform the surgery as he sees fit, just off label.

"Patients have been digging in the ground with their bare bands and then we're going to give them a shovel," says Dr. Bagnato.

While some teenagers going as far as surgery to lose weight, groups in the community are looking to help teens shed pounds by overhauling their lifestyles.

Dr. Smith doesn't call SHAPEDOWN a diet; she calls it an exercise program. SHAPEDOWN designed to give kids and parents the tools to stop unhealthy habits and set the children on track of smart nutrition and exercise.

SHAPEDOWN participant Kyle Bridges, 11, joined because he says he wants to fit in and have less of a chance of getting picked on.

"I've actually lost a few pounds on this program. It's been pretty cool â" I lost four, three, six pounds," says Bridges.

He isn't the only one reaching milestones at SHAPEDOWN.

"I have a 12-year-old who has lost about 15 pounds over the last year and she has just been so amazed, I mean, her whole self image has improved," says Dr. Smith.

Youth Becoming Healthy (YBH) was established in Albany in February 2004. Founder Pamela Jackson was nominated in 2009 as a CNN Hero for the program. Her inspiration and mission hit close to home.

"My brother lost his life because of the number two cause of preventable death which is obesity. He died at the young age of 43. He weighed over 427 pounds at his death," says Jackson.

YBH centers can be found in eight Southwest Georgia schools. Jackson surveyed what the teens wanted and they listed off specific gym equipment. They got it.

While many people attack the fast food industry for the growing childhood obesity problem, Jackson is all about portion control.

"It's okay to eat McDonald's or the fast food or the Burger Kings sometimes, but it's the choices you make when you go," says Jackson.

In a technological age, she says it's the lifestyle changes that have contributed to the obesity problem.

"For whatever reasons, parents don't cook like they used to, the kids don't go out and play like they used to," she says.

But the YBH program has turned a problem into success stories. Jackson has kids who started in the program seven years ago who are now college athletes. Given the accomplishments of teens in YBH, Jackson says there is still a lot of work to be done.

"Getting more kids involved in physical activity," says Jackson. "It's going to take the teachers, not just the P.E. teachers and coaches; it's going to take all of the teachers, all of the parents. It's going to take the community. That whole village to raise a child concept, well it's going to take that same village to turn this childhood obesity epidemic around."

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