By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
Serenity Williams wanted to end it all.
Depressed over constant taunts about her weight from her birth mother, schoolmates and strangers provoked the 356-pound teen to swallow over 60 pills in an attempt to stop the name calling, strange looks and eventually her life.
“My other daughter said that she would not wake up from her nap,” said Dominique Sparks Stevenson, Serenity’s adoptive mother. I got to shaking her. She would shake, not knowing she was going into a seizure. I rolled her over and found a notebook in her hand. She had written a letter and said she was tired of dealing with everything and felt like it would be a better place without her here.”
Rushed to the hospital, Serenity awoke from a coma three days later on her 14th birthday.
“Depression got too much for her,” added Stevenson, whose sister is Serenity’s birth mother. “The issues that her and her birth mother were dealing with took her down a bad road. You can’t let outside forces determine your future. The best thing to conquer those who want you to fail is to succeed.”
Childhood obesity is a condition that 32.6 percent of youth in Michigan seek to conquer.
Michigan has the 18th highest childhood obesity rate in the country. Like Serenity, many obese children suffer from low self-esteem, negative body image and depression.
Programs like Full n Fabulous’ Curvy Girl Project strive to help youths become healthy and more knowledgeable in making proper food choices.
“We teach the girls to make healthy choices in every area of their life, especially their health”, says Sharon DuMas, founder, who has been working with plus sized girls and women for 33 years. “We build up their self-esteem, teach them how to read food labels and to eat right. Weight loss is more than diet. I ask them, ‘When you look in the mirror, do you see a good person? Or, is that person so unattractive that you make poor decisions to be accepted?’”
Experts say that obese children are more prone to experience low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. They are also more likely to suffer from weight-related health issues, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, sleep apnea, and elevated cholesterol levels. Some are also at risk of succumbing to an early death.
“Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits, and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents," said former Surgeon General Richard Carmona.
For the family of 17-year-old Tenae Michelle White, the effects from obesity turned fatal.
“She died at dinner table with dad,” explained DuMas, who mentored the 350-pound teen. “She was eating the wrong things. She went into a seizure and was rushed to the hospital, and she didn’t make it. The cause was complications from obesity. She had a great personality. Never did it cross their minds that she could have been eating out of emotions.”
Other causes of childhood obesity include consuming sugary drinks and less healthy foods, lacking daily physical activity and eating larger than normal portions.
Statistics also reveal that eight to 18-year old adolescents spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media, including, TV, computers, video games, cell phones and movies, and only one-third of high school students get the recommended levels of physical activity.
One study reported, “TV viewing is a contributing factor to childhood obesity, because it may take away from the time children spend in physical activities; lead to increased energy intake through snacking and eating meals in front of the TV; and, influence children to make unhealthy food choices through exposure to food advertisements.”
September is recognized as National Childhood Obesity Awareness month. To combat childhood obesity, experts suggest the following steps be taken:
• Make small changes, like keeping fresh fruit within reach or going on a family walk after dinner.
• Motivate teachers and administrators to make schools healthier. Help them provide healthy food options and daily physical activities for students.
• Ask doctors and nurses to be leaders in their communities by supporting programs to prevent childhood obesity.
Obesity doesn’t have to become the end to a quality life. Like Serenity, who not only changed her way of thinking but also her lifestyle, one can fight back against childhood obesity and become a survivor.
“Serenity has done a 180-degree turn around. She’s a different child now. She’s lost 95 pounds. She’s outgoing, plays softball and volleyball, and does modeling and community service,” said Stevenson. “Don’t let your past become your future. I encourage her to feel good about herself in the skin she’s in. Being plus size is not a flaw, it can be a beauty.”