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Childhood obesity is a major problem in Wisconsin; one Fond du Lac doctor is working to change that

Posted at 7:16 PM, Nov 08, 2023
  • Childhood obesity is increasing nationwide, including in Wisconsin.
  • A Fond du Lac pediatrician recently presented to the state legislature on the issue.
  • Doctors say genetics, environment and a healthy lifestyle are all factors and preventing the disease involves the whole community.
  • Video shows the more of that doctor and the story of one of his patients.

Growing up isn’t easy, especially when it comes with gaining some extra pounds. That’s what 12-year-old Dorian Johnson has been dealing with for the past few years, during which time he said he’s had to make a lot of changes to his health after his doctor told him he was experiencing “abnormal weight gain.”
“I was very, like, unresponsive about myself. . . in 2021, I gained a lot of weight because I just ate like everything,” Johnson said. “I had like eight bags of Takis in my trash. It was terrible.”

Childhood obesity has nearly tripled nationwide since 1970, and Johnson’s pediatrician is part of a group working to change that.

Dr. Sanchin Jogal is a pediatrician at SSM Health specializing in childhood obesity, and he recently gave a presentation to the state legislature, which has targeted the issue with a bipartisan task force.

“Type 2 diabetes was so rare in children. . . and now we see this more commonly even in less than two years of age,” Jogal said.

In Wisconsin, 14.9 percent of children are considered “obese” by the National Survey of Children’s Health. That’s lower than the national average, which is 19.7 percent according to the CDC, but Jogal said it’s still too high.

Jogal said type 2 diabetes in toddlers is usually due to genetic predisposition, which is one of three factors in causing the disease. The other two are the environment and personal choices.

“That includes what we call a healthy lifestyle: how you sleep at night, how you eat, what kind of foods you choose,” Jogal said.

While genetics and environment may be up to chance, behavior and healthy living is not, and that’s what Jogal tells patients like Johnson.

“I've hoped to instill in him —and this is really important—some sense of responsibility, some message of him being the important person to make the decision,” Jogal said.

Johnson and his mother Amber Kilawee said they’re aware of these factors and talk about them openly.

“My grandpa has diabetes. . . so I gotta watch myself because… I don't know what my chances are of getting that, but I bet they're pretty high,” Johnson said.

Jogal said another solution is to involve the community in the health of children.

“That's why I go out in the community—go to the schools, go to be involved in the health department to help promote as a collective community-wide not only health care-wide,” Jogal said.

He also stressed that mental health is also a large factor in overall physical health.

“A big component that I look for, and help optimize against, is trauma,” Jogal said. “That is a big elephant in the room for any disease.”

Kilawee said the process involves the whole family.

“[It’s about] really empowering our kiddos to have to make those healthy decisions and really laying that foundation and groundwork for that so they can make those decisions on their own,” Kilawee said.

Johnson also has some advice for other kids: “No, no candy, no Takis, no hot Cheetos, all that,” he said.