Dr. Reginald Washington believes that when it comes to growing up healthy -- both mentally and physically -- having a positive role model makes a world of difference.
"Children follow the example of their parents, their peers and what is shown to them in the media. A lot of children need positive role models when they're young, especially those who think they already have all the answers," said Washington.
Washington is a clinical professor of pediatric cardiology at the University of Colorado Medical Center and medical director of Rocky Mountain Pediatrix Cardiology. There, he works as a role model to his patients and their families. His practice offers nutritional advice and assesses blood work. It monitors medications and offers counseling. If necessary, it refers patients and families to weight-loss programs.
Washington, however, believes the most important benefit he provides is empathy. "If an overweight child says to me, 'I'm just not a good athlete,' I'll say, 'I wasn't a good athlete at your age either; but here are some things I did to get better.' If a single mother tells me she can't stop feeding her family fast food because she's short on time and money, I'll tell her I understand because I sometimes eat fast food too; but here are some foods I stay away from and here are some that are more healthful," he said.
Washington feels he has had a positive influence on a child's life when the child makes small, meaningful changes. "If an overweight child goes from watching six hours of television a day to one hour of television a day, that's an accomplishment," he said.
Along with the work he does through his private practice, Washington also combats childhood obesity by working with several national and international boards and committees.
Washington is cochair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' National Task Force on Obesity. He organizes the efforts of a variety of childhood obesity specialists to make sure the timeliest subjects are addressed, and the academy has the most up-to-date research and data.
Washington also served as cochair of the Commission on School Nutrition and Physical Activities for Denver public schools. He studied the students' nutritional and physical activities; suggesting policy, environment and nutritional changes to the school board.
"Obesity currently is an epidemic in this country. The more we learn about it, the more we know that it is not decreasing," Washington said. "I hope that my efforts and the efforts of the organizations with which I'm involved will help begin to control this epidemic."