In Northern Westchester, Dr. Amy Salerno, Carmen Abril and Stephanie Schwartz, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., are also focusing on portion control as a way to combat the prevalence of obesity in young children, particularly in local Spanish-speaking families.
They're teaming up to give famlilies guidance on healthy meals with particular attention paid to the sizes of snacks and meals appropriate for young children.
"We are really jumping on this," said Salerno, a Bedford resident with a ten-year family practice on Smith Avenue in Mt. Kisco that draws patients from as far north as Brewster and Katonah, to Bedford Hills, Mt. Kisco and towns south of the area.
"Parents are craving advice. And I see new patients, some that have just arrived from over the border, come in slender—only to return a year later overweight. So it's really an issue here," said Salerno, whose career spans almost 30 years and includes a stint as an emergency room physician at Northern Westchester Hospital.
Carmen Abril, office manager for Salerno's practice, said this year's school physicals resulted in nearly 60 percent of children being noted as overweight, which troubled her both as a medical professional and a mother in the community.
It's an emotional issue and a serious medical concern, Salerno added.
"Children as young as age seven burst into tears in front of us when they are told they are overweight," she said.
If kids fall into the overweight category, they draw bloods to see if they have a propensity for diabetes or are at risk for high cholesterol. They also test liver function and some young children are already showing elevated liver function proteins because their diets are high in fat.
"Livers can become enlarged and fail because of fatty diets," said Salerno.
She said as follow up, she'd write notes to the family that children needed to be on diabetic diets but then later she'd hear about burgers and juice. After seeing the dramatic rise of obesity in her practice, she and Abril decided to take a more active role.
So the pair reached out to Stefanie Schwartz, a registered dietician in Chappaqua and owner of Nutritionally Yours, a nutrition consultancy. They've set up a workshop for local families—the majority of whom are Spanish speakers—to provide ideas for culturally appropriate, healthful meals.
"We chose Stefanie because she knows the foods of many Latin countries," said Abril. "She can help incorporate some of the favorite cultural foods—often rice, beans, pasta—in the right portions."
The first session will be held on the evening of Sept. 27 for about 25 parents in Salerno's practice. Salerno, who is fluent, plans to simultaneously translate Schwartz's session into Spanish and they will also distribute written meal plans to attendees.
If there's interest, this invitation-only session will be repeated at no cost for the general public.
For her part, Schwartz said her role will be to help families learn better food choices and balance with the goal of becoming healthier—and preventing obesity.
"I will inspire, motivate, and most importantly, point to things they can change," she said. "I will go over what specific foods that are better then others, and what are the best substitutes. I will talk about the excess snacking that goes on and ways to decrease that as a family."
Schwartz said she hoped to empower attendees with information to allow them to be more confident, and establish healthier habits.