A Family Centered Approach to Weight Management
by Becky Burton
Childhood obesity rates have increased dramatically in Canada over the past 25 years, and rates of obesity in Northwestern Ontario are higher than the provincial average. Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre’s Paediatric Healthy Living Program can help with a family centered approach to weight management for children ages 4 to 17.
“We are very fortunate to have this program at our Hospital for local and regional patients,” said Teresa Bruni, Paediatrician and Medical Director for the program. “The program aims to assist patients in making lifestyle changes, improving overall health and decreasing the impact of obesity related illnesses. Not only have I seen positive changes in the health of children, I have seen an overall increase in the well-being of families committed to the program.”
Extra weight can impact children’s health and well-being and can stem from many factors, including but not limited to: the quality of food and drinks consumed, physical activity levels, screen use, sleep, and family and community environments. Children with excess weight are at an increased risk for a number of immediate and long-term health conditions including cardiac disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems and liver disease. Obesity in childhood can also result in psychological distress including an increased risk of mood and anxiety difficulties. Many children may experience difficulties with peer interactions and weight-related bullying.
The goal of our Hospital’s Paediatric Healthy Living Program is to help children and their families improve their overall health and quality of life by helping them make behaviour changes (e.g., increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, decreasing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, increasing physical activity, decreasing screen time, increasing sleep). Our approach is to focus on healthy lifestyle habits to improve health, stabilize weight and lower the risk of weight related illnesses.
“It was really beneficial for our family to access the support of the Paediatric Healthy Living Program as they helped us in figuring out where we could start making changes to improve the health of our child when were feeling overwhelmed and unsure what to do,” said one parent involved in the program.
Families work together with a multidisciplinary team which includes a Registered Dietitian, Social Worker, Kinesiologist, Nurse Practitioner, and Psychologist to create an individualized treatment plan to identify factors that promote weight gain and things that make weight management difficult while building on family strengths. As behaviour change can take time, our program is two years in duration and includes both individual counseling appointments and group-based programs.
If you are concerned about your child’s weight and its potential impact on their health and quality of life, ask your primary care provider (Doctor or Nurse Practitioner) if your child is eligible for our Program. For more information, please call the Paediatric Healthy Living Program at 684-6058.