Unique program helps families fight childhood obesity
Weight loss is a challenge at any age, even for the young.
“I dreaded those physical fitness challenges at school when I was a kid, because I was overweight and couldn’t do the push-ups, sit-ups or the mile run. At times, it was extremely embarrassing,” explains Nicki Klinkhamer, executive director of Proactive Kids Foundation (PAK), reflecting on her husband’s comments and his motivation for creating the nonprofit organization nearly five years ago.
According to the American Heart Association, today, nearly one in three American kids and teens are overweight or obese—nearly triple the rate in 1963. Obesity in children can lead to complications that are not usually seen until adulthood: high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. Research has further determined that obese kids are more at risk for psychological and psychiatric problems as well, such as low self-esteem, negative body image and depression.
PAK is a free, eight-week, comprehensive, all-inclusive program designed to treat the whole child, specifically kids ages 8 to 14 who are struggling with unhealthy weight. To participate in the PAK program, children must be in the 85th percentile or above of body mass index (BMI)) and must have a physician referral.
The unique program offered through PAK tackles some of the most serious issues stemming from childhood obesity. Not only does this program address the physical and nutritional requirements for weight loss, but it engages the whole family. PAK works on improving a child’s self-esteem and, more importantly, explores and analyzes the emotional and psychological reasons that may underpin a child’s struggle with overeating.
“It is so important to evaluate the whole person and get right to the heart of the matter of why a child is overeating,” Klinkhamer says. “Yes, at times, it’s painful to work with the entire family to try addressing the root causes of why a child may be overeating, eating too much, sneaking food or just eating the wrong things,” she adds.
“The problem could stem from lack of education or resources, bullying, a divorce, or perhaps, the loss of a loved one—anything. In the long run, our efforts can prove to be life-saving, because obesity is attributable to so many other threatening health problems.”
Many doctors have called obesity a family disease, but some are now calling the family the key to a solution.
“If parents do not consume fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and eliminate sweetened beverages and junk foods from their diet, their children are not going to be exposed to good foods and will not eliminate the bad ones either,” says Dr. Vidhya Viswanathan, pediatric endocrinologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital, in Oak Lawn, Ill. “The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. If families can exercise together, everyone can be healthy.”
Past studies have shown that the behavior of one member of the family often proves contagious to other family members. This mimicking of behavior is called the “halo effect.” The halo effect is especially significant when it comes to weight gain, or weight loss.
“What makes PAK different from other weight-loss programs is that parents and other family members commit to attend one of the classes with the child on a weekly basis to learn how to support each other and how to make dietary and exercise changes for the entire household,” says Jennifer Connor, manager of clinical operations at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn and PAK program liaison. “So far, the feedback has been fantastic. Physicians, social workers and nurses have been calling and requesting information about the program,” she says.
PAK sessions are scheduled for winter and spring quarters of 2014. For more information, please visit http://proactivekids.org/.
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