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Family enlightenment leads to leaner kids

Published March 19, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - All Children's Hospital is attacking childhood obesity through family education.

Focusing on nutritional and fitness education, the Weight Management & Fitness for Families program consists of two components. Families with children ages 8-12 either participate at their pediatrician's office or attend a group program.

The two programs are funded by a $297,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They were started on the recommendation of a hospital obesity task force, a group of health professionals and community leaders charged with developing a weight management program for children.

When Cindy Roberts of St. Petersburg started the group program with her 10-year-old daughter, Brooke, she had reservations but soon learned that the program was worthwhile.

"They have a great connection with the families," Roberts said. "Brooke told me a few weeks ago that she feels like it's a place where she can say anything she wants."

The number of overweight children has increased significantly since 1980 and continues to rise, said Dr. Frank Diamond, the medical director for the weight management program and a pediatric endocrinologist.

An estimated 16 percent of 6- to 19-year-olds are overweight, according to results from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. That represents a 45 percent increase from 1988-94 survey results.

Several factors are behind the trend, said Diamond, a professor of pediatrics at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

"It's being driven by a significant reduction in overall activity of children - more computer time, more GameBoy time, more cell phone time," Diamond said. Also, foods high in fat are prevalent in today's supermarkets.

More than 30 pediatric offices in the Tampa Bay area have ordered the program's $30 "tool kit," which doctors and parents use to track progress. The kits include information on nutrition, fitness and goals and a log book for recording weekly eating and physical activity. Families pay for the kit and office visits, Diamond said.

The program consists of a one-week orientation and eight weekly education and fitness sessions. Families must be referred by a pediatrician, and the cost is on a sliding scale.

"I talk to the families and see where they are financially," said Weight Management & Fitness for Families coordinator Kellie Gilmore. An agreement with the Pinellas County Health Department will allow some families to obtain scholarships, she said. Up to 10 families participate in one hour of nutrition and goal attainment classes and one hour of physical activity.

"We want the kids to modify behaviors that will last the rest of their lives," Gilmore said. To achieve that goal, both children and parents discuss menu planning, label reading, dining out and managing stress. The sessions are informal, with a focus on getting the children to participate. The program's second hour targets fitness through fun. Parents and children participate in yoga, kickboxing, dodge ball or tag.

"The point is not just that they get a workout," said Sarah Krieger, a registered dietitian and a group program leader. "I hope they grasp onto something that they really like."

Allen and Patty Pryde of Pinellas Park completed the group sessions in February with their daughters, Kaitlyn, 12, and Erin, 9. "We told them they were coming the first time. After that, they've wanted to come," Allen Pryde said.

Patty Pryde said the couple's two children are "eating at home more and making better choices when they are out."

Erin said: "I have new eating habits. I've starting eating more vegetables."

Participants in the group program will soon be asked to volunteer for blood testing during the first and final weeks of the program. Diamond is looking at what he calls "biomarkers of obesity," blood sugar, cholesterol, lipid, protein and hormone levels.

"We now know fats cells make a number of hormones, circulate in the blood and signal the brain."

Diamond is studying how those biomarkers change in those who participate in All Children's weight management program.

The results may help him understand why some children tend to gain weight while others don't, how best to manage weight gain and loss, and tools pediatricians should use to help their patients.

A program for the 13-18 age group is in the planning stages.

About 15 children and their parents completed the hospital's group program this month, bringing the total to 100 since August 2004.

Dean Mullins is a reporter for the Neighborhood News Bureau, a program of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.


For more information about Weight Management & Fitness for Families, call All Children's Hospital at 767-6923.

[Last modified March 19, 2006, 01:07:22]

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