By Julie Boman, MD, FAAP, pediatrician at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
As pediatricians, we are well-versed in the rising rates of obesity among children over the past fifty years. Childhood obesity is theoretically a simple disease to treat: eat less, move more. But as most of us know, simple theories are often hard to put into practice when the underlying causes happen far from the exam room.
Statistics show that childhood obesity rates among certain minority groups are substantially higher than among white children. My practice at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics in Minneapolis has a high percentage of Latino children and we see obese children much too often. I saw an opportunity to do something slightly different than the usual office visit and follow up that I’d like to share with you.
In January of 2012 I asked the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MNAAP) to help me in applying for a small grant through the National Institute for Children’s Healthcare Quality (NICHQ) to reach out to local overweight/obese Latino children and their families. We were awarded a small start-up grant that gave us the seed money to get the ball rolling.
Our goal was to create a program that connected Latino families to people who could help them avoid — or reduce — obesity. We wanted a program that got everyone involved — moms and dads and children — and we wanted to include community groups that had gained the trust of Latinos, such as CLUES (Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio), the Waite House, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the University of Minnesota Extension Service and the YWCA.
The following summer we began spreading the word about this new program. We started our first classes with just a handful of people. Today these classes are overflowing with 80 people or more. Once a week families gather at a large meeting hall at the Waite House. They dance to Zumba; they create healthy meals and learn about real-world portion size; they measure and track their BMI; they discuss ways they can eat better and move more. If you were to visit one of these gatherings, you’d find it doesn’t look like a normal doctor’s office. It is a community based extension of the office visit.
So far, the early results are encouraging. More than 100 Latinos have gotten involved with Vida Sana on a regular basis. Most of the adults and children have BMIs in the overweight or obese category, but many are seeing changes in their BMI in addition to changes in health habits.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we’re doing a better job of reaching a patient group that has been difficult to reach using traditional office visit medicine.