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University Relations

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July 8, 2005
Contact: Roger Martin, KU Center for Research, (785) 864-7239.

Roger Martin commentary: Simple approach best to conquer addiction

I got simple-minded in order to quit smoking four packs a day.

My first simple idea was this: "You don't have to quit forever, Roger. Only for a minute. And then another."

My second was this: "All you have to do is never lift a cigarette to your lips again."

It's been 33 years since I kicked the habit.

Of course smoking's not everybody's vice. For some people, it's overeating.

But Ann McGrath Davis would agree that getting simple-minded is important in kicking that habit, too.
A couple of years ago, Davis, a University of Kansas assistant professor of behavioral pediatrics, studied weight control in fifth-graders.

The 150 kids in the study, which was funded by the Sunflower Foundation, lived in Kansas City, Wichita, Caldwell and Stafford.

Forty percent were overweight or at risk of it.

That's not too surprising. Some 60 percent of Kansas adults are at least overweight, according to the Kansas Health Institute.

Anyway, Davis and her team weighed and measured the kids. Living in the city or countryside made little difference, it turned out, in their body mass index, or BMI.

But the kids' habits were different. Urban kids, for example, ate more fast food, while rural ones tended to eat Grandma's fried chicken, Davis said.

In addition, the rural kids spent more hours in front of the computer or TV. Yet when they did move, they were a little more physically active.

After the measurement phase, Davis and her team split the kids into two groups, those whose weight was OK and those who were overweight or near to it.

She taught healthier habits to the kids whose weight was OK.

To the overweight kids and their parents, she gave more attention. They got hourlong tutorials about controlling weight: one each on breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

She used video conferencing to reach the families, which is "great for a state like Kansas," Davis says. "It lets us reach people who wouldn't otherwise have access to specialists."

A year later, Davis and her colleagues reweighed the kids and checked out their health habits. Their BMIs, remained stable, Davis says. But significant changes took place in their health habits.

She says, "In the world of obesity studies, that's a positive finding."

A few simple things help lower BMI, Davis says.

For example, teens who keep a detailed record of how much they eat have an easier time managing weight.

It also helps if they get out of the chair or off the couch.

The average teenager is involved with TV, computers, videos and similar devices eight hours a day. If parents limit screen time, Davis says, kids move around more.

Of course everybody knows how testy teenagers can be. But ignoring the problem is dangerous, what with heart attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and stroke a few of the unpleasant side effects of obesity in later life.

Sure, life is complicated. Even so, being healthy sometimes requires a surprising simple-mindedness.


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