By JEFF MEYERS
---- — MORRISONVILLE — At 14, Emily Goff faces many of the challenges that teen girls deal with in their lives.
But with help from her family and local agencies and health-care providers, Emily has been able to conquer one of those: being overweight.
“Emily has struggled with her weight all her life,” said her mom, Darcie Goff. “About a year ago, she started experiencing problems with headaches and nausea, and we didn’t really know what the problem was.”
At first, Darcie and her husband, Kevin Goff Jr., brought Emily to the eye doctor, thinking that a strain on her eyesight might be causing the headaches, but when that unveiled no cause for the recurring problems, they turned to Emily’s pediatrician for help.
Subsequent tests revealed a condition called pseudotumor cerebri, which mimics the symptoms of a brain tumor when pressure inside the skull increases for no apparent reason.
“The body tricks itself into believing it has a brain tumor,” Darcie explained in layperson terms. “It is common for young girls Emily’s age who are slightly obese.”
Doctors agreed that weight loss might be an effective response to the symptoms, and the Goff family decided to get behind their daughter’s needs and change their eating habits to include healthier choices.
“It’s not really a diet,” Darcie said of the healthier choices they have made. “We’re just focusing on eating more fruits and vegetables, eliminating the bad carbs from breads, pastas and potatoes.”
The change has been tremendous for Emily and her 12-year-old brother, Mark. Emily has lost 95 pounds since the family improved their food choices, and Mark has lost 50 pounds.
“All of the symptoms, the headaches — they’re completely gone,” Darcie said. “Both Emily and Mark are much more active than they were before losing the weight.”
“I just feel more energetic,” Emily said of her renewed vigor.
The family emphasizes portion control for their meals, as well as improved snacks. Mark, for instance, has developed a fondness for tossed salad and says he would rather snack on a can of corn than a couple of doughnuts.
The kids’ self-esteem has also improved, Darcie said, noting that Emily is excited about the new clothes she can now wear and Mark would probably spend his entire day on the basketball court, given the chance.
With childhood obesity a continuing problem across the region, health-care providers are working together to enable more success stories like the Goffs. Members of the North Country Pediatric Obesity Initiative meet monthly to search for ways to promote a healthier community.
“We have a variety of community members who participate regularly,” said Leita King, social worker for North Country Medical Home, a regional effort to promote improved health care across the region.
“We have a few local pediatricians, representatives from public health and school districts and nutritionists from CVPH and Cornell Cooperative Extension,” she added.
“We want to bring together as many community members as we can to talk about how we can best utilize resources in the community to help reduce child obesity.”
Pediatricians play a major role as they refer patients to King and fellow Medical Home social worker Laura LaHart, who can then guide families to such programs as the Cooperative Extension’s Eat Smart New York health-living initiative.
“We provide nutrition education for families whose children have been suggested by their docs to work with us,” said Cooperative Extension nutritionist Alexa King. “Our work (with families) is hands-on and tailored for the needs of each family.”
The program works with individual families and with small groups to promote healthier food choices and improved knowledge of nutrition.
“With the work the doctors are doing and the different services the agencies offer, it has gone very well,” Alexa King said. “We’re all telling the same message; it’s so much more effective that way.”
“One outcome (from the Pediatric Obesity Initiative) is that pediatricians in the area now have a nutritionist available in their offices,” said Plattsburgh pediatrician Dr. Heidi Moore. “Families now have easier access to that service.”
Moore supports the steps the Goff family have taken to improve their diet.
“The biggest downfall, usually, for kids is carbohydrate intake, portion size and sugar-sweetened beverages,” she said.
“Most parents say their kids exercise plenty, and that’s usually true. They are just keeping up with the calories they burn by putting too many (calories) in.”
The holidays are a good time to promote a balance in healthy food choices, she added: There is nothing wrong with having a gingerbread cookie, but don’t gobble five in one seating.
“The holidays are a great time to evaluate what our comfort foods are and try to make small changes to incorporate more healthy choices,” Moore said.
The initiative also provides mental-health counseling in pediatrician offices to help counter the kinds of issues that may offset efforts to improve food choices.
Email Jeff Meyers: firstname.lastname@example.org