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December 12, 2002

Program gives kids early start on healthy lifestyle

For children, a wholesome snack and vigorous play are good prescriptions for a healthy life. Simple changes in eating and activity can stave off several serious diseases, says Jennifer Park, a lecturer in the department of kinesiology and health science.

To demonstrate the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for children who are already significantly overweight, CSUS has joined in a partnership with Sutter Children's Hospital at Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento to pilot a program that addresses healthy eating, physical activity, family support and a positive self-image. This fall the first group of 6- to 11-year-olds and their families entered the program. A second group in the spring will be targeted at 12- to 18-year-olds.

The Pediatric Healthy Lifestyle Program, which engages each youngster's family as well, emphasizes hands-on nutrition and physical activity. Designed to prevent chronic medical conditions related to overweight, it includes work with a nutritionist, social worker and exercise physiologist. This multidisciplinary approach helps sort through not only the cause, but also possible solutions to the problem. It also allows significant opportunities for CSUS interns from many fields to develop their skills in a meaningful setting.

Park notes that Type II diabetes, elevated blood insulin levels, elevated cholesterol, and sleep apnea are among the conditions which can be controlled through good health management. Lifestyle changes can help individuals to live longer and substantially healthier lives.

The program works closely with a Sutter physician who is a pediatric endrocrinologist and a diabetologist. The intervention program takes clients on referral and offers a six-week series of two-hour classes for the whole family, plus a one-year follow up. The program targets children whose body mass index or BMI is at the 85th percentile or greater.

Research supports the need for this type of intervention, Park says, citing for example a recent RAND research study which found that the long-term costs for treating the complications of obesity are more than the costs of poverty, alcohol and tobacco.

Today, says Park, Type II diabetes is occurring in more people at earlier ages. In 1992 only 2 to 4 percent of the new cases of Type II diabetes occurred in individuals under 18. By 1999 children with Type II diabetes ranged from 8 to 45 percent of all new cases. Type II diabetes is a serious disease, driven by lifestyle, that can result in such problems as blindness, amputation, circulatory problems, heart disease, and kidney failure. These are just some of the reasons that adopting a healthy lifestyle early in life is exceedingly important, Park says. It is also part of the reason that last year the U.S. Surgeon General called the nation to action in addressing childhood obesity, which this program does.

"It's important to engage the whole family," Park explains. "After all, the children aren't doing their own grocery shopping. And awareness helps to build family-based fitness and other activities that are important to do together."

With younger children, she notes, putting the full burden on them to monitor their food and activities is too much responsibility. It is the whole family that is responsible as a unit. For example, the social worker helps teach the parenting skills needed to assist a resistant child with the new regime such as when a child announces that the food now being served is "yucky and I won't eat it."

The social worker also looks into reasons that a child may be overeating or under-exercising. Emotional eating, depression and body image all play important roles in being overweight, Park says. Since eating patterns get set early, working with children is all the more important, she points out.

For more information call (916) 278-5032.


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