Alva Roche-Green, M.D., a Mayo Clinic pediatrician, internist and palliative care physician, sees the full spectrum of life, caring for patients ranging in age from infancy to 98.
She shares a common battle with some of them: Obesity. Some 40 percent of the children in her care are obese, something she, too, struggles with.
“Kids are often in air conditioning, sitting in front of the television, or holding a hand-held device,” says Dr. Roche-Green, of Jacksonville, Florida. “Obesity is even a much bigger struggle once they reach their maximum height. And it’s a lot easier to lose at 15 than at 40.”
She said working with children who are gaining weight often leads to healthy changes for the whole family. She said she tries to empower and support children, and that her personal familiarity with the problem helps her reach them.
“It’s important not to make kids feel self-conscious. Plus, I know how hard it is. I have good days and I have bad days, too. You’re not going to do it overnight,” she said.
Roche-Green is originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where delicious food is central to culture and the focus of celebrations and family gatherings.
“I have memories of being at my grandmother’s house for gumbo and Mardi Gras. And, every Monday, like most of Louisiana, we had red beans and rice at our house. And you just don’t run out of food because gumbo is so good the next day! Plus, it’s an insult not to eat!” she said.
But her life these days includes many modifications to her favorite foods. Spinach goes in salads instead of simple lettuce, for example. Her super active husband, Broderick, 39, also from Louisiana, cooks foods they remember without the rich flour and oil-based roux.
“My mind goes a mile a minute on how to change the things you eat into healthy things you love,” she said.
Dr. Roche-Green works with the American Heart Association, advocating for healthier foods and activities in schools.
“Obesity and heart disease go together. We want to prevent heart attacks. We place editorials about healthy living in the media, get CPR training in schools; and advocate that city facilities be available on the weekends for exercise use,” she said. “The American Heart Association is trying to identify those places where there is no produce in markets, just packaged foods. We can do so much if we prevent heart disease from happening in the first place.”
“We’re encouraging kids to get outside instead of watching television and using the computer,” she emphasizes.
Dr. Roche-Green has noticed, though, that many people don’t think about getting Mayo Clinic care for these types of preventive and wellness medical issues.
“People don’t realize we have primary and pediatric care as well as specialty care here. So many families think they are not sick enough to be a Mayo patient, but that’s just not the case,” Dr. Roche-Green said.
In fact, Mayo Clinic’s commitment to this type of health and wellness has recently expanded to a new, Healthy Living Program. The program leverages years of Mayo Clinic medical research and clinical expertise to provide whole-person care and guidance to achieve sustainable, lifelong improvements in wellbeing. Mayo’s multidisciplinary team of experts ensures each patient in the Healthy Living program receives a comprehensive, individualized wellness experience with ongoing support long after the patient returns home.
Mayo Clinic research continues to unveil the powerful impact of diet and exercise – Mayo demonstrated that The Mayo Clinic Diet can help improve health as well as promote weight loss, and Mayo Clinic studies have shown that movement activities throughout the day are just as important as formal exercise.
Mayo Clinic experts also emphasize tactics that are proven to increase resiliency, which is the ability to adapt and respond to life’s daily challenges and adversity.
When it comes to a patient’s weight, activity and wellness, Dr. Roche-Green asks, “Are you better off waiting until you feel sick enough to be a Mayo patient? No, the answer is no. Let us take care of you at a point in your life when we’ve got a chance to work together on your overall well-being,” she continues, “We’ve got great people, the best of the best, and anyone can come here. Just call.”