Family works together to manage weight
Program helps families break cycle of obesity
The Jackson family had a history of weight problems. But when 11-year-old Mya avoided going out to play when her asthma attacks became increasingly frequent after physical activity, her mother, Nisha Jackson, took action. She registered all three of her daughters for SHAPEDOWN® classes offered at Via Christi Clinic.
SHAPEDOWN is the nation's leading weight management program for children and teens. It is designed to educate and involve the whole family in making healthy choices with the premise that if families develop positive habits together, they can break the cycle of obesity, reduce medical problems and even improve self-esteem and family relationships.
For the Jacksons, the program is working. Mya and her sisters — Madison, 12, and Morgan, 13 — have each lost between 15 and 20 pounds. Nisha lost 35 pounds, and since completing the program in October, has lost 75 additional pounds.
Mya, who previously needed daily breathing treatments and an emergency inhaler no longer requires any breathing treatments and rarely uses her inhaler. The family who never exercised before now rides bikes, swims and roller blades together. They even joined the YMCA.
“It’s been a complete transformation for us,” says Nisha, a single mother and full-time student at Wichita State University. “The program taught us how to shop for healthy foods, how to read labels and how to tell when we’re really hungry.”
They learned about nutrition and exercise, healthy weight loss, stress management, family communication and more. Now, the Jacksons have monthly follow-up sessions to keep them on track.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of children ages 6 to 18 are obese, triple the number reported in 1980. Seventy percent of them will grow up to be obese adults. This troubling trend has resulted in more children requiring medical attention for diabetes, respiratory diseases, orthopedic problems, hypertension and even depression.
Research shows that weight difficulties are highly treatable when a family-based approach is used. SHAPEDOWN, developed by the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, is designed to help families break the chain of obesity.
Via Christi Clinic began offering the program 10 years ago when physicians and staff began to notice an increasing number of adult-onset diseases trickling down into childhood as the result of obesity, says SHAPEDOWN instructor Elaine Harrington, MD, a pediatrician who specializes in childhood obesity. Classes are available for youth ages 8 to 16 and are held one night a week for eight weeks.
“We show them that exercise is not just a class,” Harrington says. “We encourage the kids to start thinking about all the different ways they can increase their level of activity and incorporate more movement in their everyday life.”
Harrington and Karen Blackburn, a physician assistant and SHAPEDOWN instructor, emphasize that the program is as much about becoming stronger, faster and healthier as it is about losing weight. They focus on beneficial results of increased physical activity and controlled intake and measure participants’ progress in flexibility, strength and cardiovascular ability.
A family affair
Dietitian Sheryll Clarke teaches children and parents about healthy food options, proper portion size and calculating fat content in foods. Participants taste-test fruits, vegetables and low-fat dips during class and Clarke encourages children to make small diet changes each week. Before leaving class, families make food and exercise goals for the upcoming week and make plans for a family activity.
Program benefits go far beyond weight by addressing the whole child and family, not just the obesity, says Harrington. Youth in SHAPEDOWN enhance their self-esteem, improve peer and family relationships and adopt healthier habits. And since the program is family-based, parents and siblings benefit, too.
No one knows that better than Nisha. For the first time, she was able to enjoy theme park rides on a vacation with her girls. Before her weight loss, she could not fit into the ride seats.
The hardest thing about losing or maintaining weight, Harrington says, is breaking unhealthy habits. The key to success is getting the whole family on board; getting them motivated to make positive changes, and “doing it in baby steps.”
“I really wanted to break the (obesity) chain with my children. Weight is just another way people can discriminate against you and I feel like if we can change it, we should,” Nisha says.