Monday, November 7, 2011

Timothy Shriver Joins Conversation about Obesity and Special Needs Children

Childhood obesity is a topic that's on many parents' minds. We want our kids to be healthy and active, and we want them to avoid any of the health problems associated with being overweight.

As the mother of a blessedly healthy child, I have a lot of control when it comes to prevention. I pack CC's lunchbox every day. Ian and I decide what she has for breakfast and dinner. And she loves to play and exercise. We feel so lucky.

But what about children who have special needs? The ones who have health problems that make it difficult to combat the problem of childhood obesity?

I had the opportunity last week to talk to Sheryl Young, CEO of, an organization that supports parents with special-needs children. The organization just released a report ("Finding Balance") stating that kids with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome have a tougher time combating the obesity epidemic. Also on the conference call were Timothy Shriver, chairman & CEO of the Special Olympics, and Robin Sinkhorn, an RN and mother of "Glee" actress Lauren Potter.

According to the report, children with special needs are 38% more likely to be obese. Why is that?

For healthy kids, the relationship with food can be straightforward. Not so for kids with special needs. For example, according to AbilityPath, "children with disabilities may have physical or behavioral barriers to a healthy diet. Children with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy may have trouble chewing or swallowing, which can lead them to eat softer and more processed foods."

And, instead of diet, nutrition and fitness, said Shriver, "doctors are treating the diagnosed condition."

Sinkhorn, whose actress daughter has Down syndrome, praised the report, saying, "It really is an issue that Lauren and I have struggled with on an almost daily basis. There is good news, because the report is filled with practical solutions ... that parents and educators can really use for our kids. As a mother, nurse and a health advocate, I'm so happy to be part of the discussion."

While Shriver saw the report as "bad news" because it reflected a lack of attention we as a nation are paying to children with special needs, he did say that Special Olympics (which was founded by his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, in 1968) "is committed to redoubling our efforts to engage a new generation of young people."

Not only that, but kids who don't have special needs can participate as well -- by being inclusive and encouraging kids of all abilities to join in during playtime.

"I don't want to miss the answer under our nose," Shriver said. "Expand play and sports opportunities for kids with and without special needs. That can be a big carrot when the dieting and nutrition road feels like a stick."

For more information, visit

(Correction: An earlier version included a misspelling of Robin Sinkhorn's name.)

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