CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) — To say 18-year-old Tanner Hankins is half the man he used to be would be inaccurate, but the Cape Girardeau High School senior has managed to melt away nearly 70 pounds since January and 110 pounds overall.
At his heaviest, Hankins carried 281 pounds on his 5-foot-9-inche frame. Through proper diet and regular exercise he now checks in at 171 pounds.
"I was tired of not being able to be happy. I always avoided mirrors and pictures. Who wants to live their life running from themselves?" Hankins said.
While Hankins was looking to improve his self-image, the health risks associated with obesity are a more pressing problem for today's health care providers than self-esteem.
"There's a lot that goes into it. It's not just a number on a scale," said Laura Morningstar, a clinical integrations coordinator at HealthPoint Fitness.
Early obesity increases the chances of cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In a sample of obese youth ages 5 to 17, 70 percent had at least one cardiovascular risk factor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We're reaching a point where our children may not outlive our generation because of health factors they'll come in contact with at such a young age," Morningstar said.
In 2008, the CDC listed 18 percent of U.S. adolescents age 12 to 19 as obese, a figure more than tripling the 5 percent from 30 years prior. The same time period saw obesity jump from seven percent to 20 percent in children age 6 to 11.
Dr. Joy LeDoux-Johnson, a physician at Saint Francis Medical Center specializing in pediatrics and adolescents, called the increase "very alarming."
Normally doctors begin screening adults for cardiovascular disease in their 40s, LeDoux-Johnson said, "but when we have adolescents that are obese, we have to start looking for cardiovascular disease by the time they're 20."
At least two factors that lead to obesity are high calorie intake and a lack of physical activity, according to a 2010 Surgeon General's report.
"Let's break it down to basics," Morningstar said. "We're eating more, and we're not moving as much as we should."
Experts identify eating too much and today's fast food and grab bag society as a few of the problems.
LeDoux-Johnson stressed the importance of educating children about portion size.
"Once you start teaching children at an early age of what a portion size is, that lesson carries over into adulthood," LeDoux-Johnson said.
Both LeDoux-Johnson and Morningstar agree, teaching children healthy lifestyles should be a family practice.
"Everyone in the household has to develop healthy eating habits," LeDoux-Johnson said.
"They don't have to stress exercise, just stress activity, some movement with the family," Morningstar said.
Before Hankins' weight loss, healthy eating habits and exercise were foreign concepts.
He spent hours playing the online fantasy game World of Warcraft and "grazed" through the kitchen, sometimes downing an entire box of cereal in one sitting.
Today, he only uses the computer for academics, he snacks on healthy foods, he runs nearly 20 miles a week, he drinks 120 ounces of water a day, and he doesn't eat after 8 p.m.
"It's a lifestyle change. It's hard at first, but it's worth it," Hankins said. "Everything is easier. When I wake up I have a different outlook on the day, both mentally and physically."
The change hasn't been easy for Hankins. As a college-bound teen there's a lot on his plate.
He's enrolled full time in advanced placement and honors classes, has more than 450 volunteer hours at Saint Francis Medical Center and works 30 hours per week at Culver's, where the temptations of cheese curds and concretes are constant.
He dodges the temptations by keeping in mind the nutrition facts. One order of Culver's cheese curds contains 569 calories.
"There's no three minutes of gratification that's worth running seven miles for," Hankins said.
Information from: Southeast Missourian, http://www.semissourian.com