NPR has a great story today on a potentially thorny problem -- how can parents sensitively address weight problems with their own children? The experts at the Packard Pediatric Weight Control Program, which is profiled in the story, describe the trouble and a possible solution:
"A lot of parents call and say that their child has very high self-esteem, feels very confident, is very active, but they're overweight," says [program director Cindy Zedek]. "So they don't want to bring up their weight, because they don't want to make them feel badly about it if it's not a current concern for them."
The last thing a parent wants is to saddle a child with a self-image problem or eating disorder. So instead, Zedeck encourages parents to tell their child that the whole family could stand to be healthier, and the program is something they can do together.
As the story describes, the Packard program, an offering of the Center for Healthy Weight at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, is a six-month series of classes aimed at helping children and their families learn about better eating and exercise habits. Using a traffic-signal system, kids track and gradually reduce their intake of "red light" foods (hello, cupcakes!) and focus more on healthier "yellow light" and "green light" choices, while also increasing their activity levels.
The program has an impressive success rate – 80 percent of its graduates reach and maintain their target weight – which can be attributed to its approach of helping children make sustainable adjustments in their food choices and activity patterns. It's not a "diet;" the changes are intended to be permanent. And it's not just kids who change. Parents must commit to completing the program with their child, examining and improving the entire family's health habits.
Another element of the program's success is that its group-treatment approach does a good job of reminding kids they aren't alone in their quest. As one recent program graduate, 11-year-old Gabriel Rodriguez, explains:
… being with other kids who are overweight and trying to get healthier has kept him going.
"It's not like I'm the only person in the world," he says. "I know there are other people out there like me."
It's worth adding one more tidbit that the NPR story didn't mention. Thanks to a $12.7 million NIH grant, researchers at Packard Children's and the Stanford University School of Medicine are now studying how to roll out their successful approach to the millions of children across the country who need it.