There’s no silver bullet when it comes to fighting childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. As the story of one effort shows, the fight has many fronts and the victories may be small.
When she was named medical director for Community Health Services in southern Adams County about four years ago, Dr. Sarah Winbourn took a look at the statistics for children in her area.
“I discovered that our overweight and obesity rate was about twice what it was in Colorado,” she said. It was about 43 percent.
Something, she knew, needed to be done. She said the overweight young people she referred to the Shapedown Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado were often not diligent enough in their follow-through to make any real progress.
“We were kind of helpless to really help our patients,” Winbourn said.
She contacted a former colleague, Dr. Matthew Haemer, an assistant professor in pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and the medical director at the GoodLIFE Clinic at the Children’s Hospital Colorado.
“I said, ‘We need help, will you help us?’ And he said yes,” Winbourn said.
With Haemer’s help, and a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation, the broad-based Healthy Living Program was developed in the Commerce City area.
It includes intensive six-week healthy living classes for families – with nutritional cooking, parenting skills and exercise components. The classes are offered through area recreation centers.
The program also reaches into the schools. At school-based health centers in Adams School District 14, they collect students’ body mass index data, established student wellness committees, added salad bars in lunchrooms and promote healthier snacks.
More complete data on the program’s long-term effectiveness won’t be available until after next May, but Haemer has reported that early results show children participating in six-week pilot sessions saw their average body mass index decrease from 24.8 to 24.4.
Numbers to quantify success may look modest right now, said Winbourn, but “we are headed in the right direction.”
“I’ve definitely seen kids in the two years of the Healthy Living Program who have gone from being obese, to no longer being obese,” Winbourn siad. “It’s a handful of kids, but still, we’ve helped those kids.”
Said Haemer: “I actually have very good confidence that the battle can be won, but it’s a question of time and the amount of resources that we as a society put into it. I think the long-term costs of obesity and economic costs, are such that we can’t afford not to.”