Program Weighs in With Alternatives for Obese Adolescents

February 14, 2000

It's probably not alarming to discover that a student living down the street weighs 210 pounds, but learn that he's in eighth grade and warning bells sound.

"Many medical problems in adulthood can be linked to a problem with obesity during the teenage years," says Richard Kreipe, M.D., of Children's Hospital at Strong. "As obese youngsters become adults, they're more likely to have complications from heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis."

Teenage obesity is a growing problem, one that needs to be tackled with a new approach, Kreipe says. That's why the division of adolescent medicine at Children's Hospital has joined with the University of Rochester's Weight Management Center to offer a new approach called "Strong Healthy Families."

"Our goal is to treat the entire family instead of dealing solely with the individual," says program director Nellie Wixom, R.D. "If an adolescent is ready to lose weight, but the family isn't ready or willing to make lifestyle changes to help, that's going to be a big barrier.

"We don't want to label foods as 'good foods' and 'bad foods,'" Wixom says. "Some foods are just healthier than others. If macaroni and cheese is always available, the chances are a teenager who could eat macaroni and cheese all day, every day, will do just that. There are healthier alternatives available."

In an effort to avoid a lecture-heavy format, those taking part in the program will play nutrition-oriented games, and visit the supermarket and vending machines, where they will learn how to make more healthful eating choices.

"We have adolescents coming in after school, and the last thing they want to hear is another lecture from a teacher, especially when it concerns behavioral changes," says Patricia Stewart, Ph.D., R.D., of the University of Rochester. "There are some items in vending machines that are better choices for you than others. We want to teach adolescents about these choices, so they'll be able to make the better one when faced with a decision."

The program is designed to last for one year. Some local insurance providers will cover a portion of the cost, which is about $900 per family. Efforts to ensure the program will eventually be fully covered are ongoing.

An orientation meeting will be held at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16, at Children's Hospital at Strong. For more information or to register, families should call 275-1630.

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