Obesity and community health centers

Obesity is a not only in the U.S but throughout the world. There is particular concern about the increasing numbers of school-aged children who are becoming overweight or obese and are developing poor health.

Research suggests that a child has a better chance of successfully changing behavior, eating habits and lifestyle if the entire family is involved.

“Healthy Families” is 12-week community-based intervention program at Charles Drew Health Center (CDHC) in Omaha. Implemented in 2007, the program is aimed at reducing overweight and obesity among children and their families by using a multidisciplinary team approach. The focus is on active involvement in improving health behaviors rather than just on weight loss.

The team of professionals includes a physician, a registered dietitian, behavioral health specialist and an exercise specialist. Health care providers refer children and adult who need to lose weight to the Healthy Families program to enroll in classes. The child must be age 4 to 18 with a BMI (body mass index) for age and gender plotted at 85 percentile on the growth chart at CDHC.

At least one  parent attends class with the children once a week for an hour and 15 minutes. During class, they get personal attention from each of the professionals. They learn to eat healthier, incorporate physical activity into their daily lives and set goals to make healthy choices together as a family. There also is time for play, eating and exercise during each session.

These activities can be carried over to home. Class members are taught to read food labels. The dietitian meets the class at a grocery store during the program so that members can practice identifying levels of fat, sugar and other nutrients in food.

An evaluation of the program found that children and parents who participated significantly reduced their BMI from pre-test to post-test. Adults who completed the class were found after the class to be drinking less full-calorie soda and were getting more exercise..

The program is free to the public.  Partial funding of the program is provided by Alegent Health. The program is an example of how community-based programs can be a more cost-effective method of delivering childhood obesity treatment compared to clinical pediatric weight-management programs. However, families must complete the 12-week program to achieve the maximum results.

A strong incentive for participants to complete the program is part of the initiative. Families can earn membership in the YMCA, as well as a $50 food package for completing the program and achieving certain goals.

For more information on the Healthy Families Program, contact Laura Dewitt at  Charles Drew Health Center, 402-451-3553, extension 282