A Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento childhood obesity program with impressive long-term success and a holistic family education approach is being replicated for members in the East Bay.
The Family Lifestyle Intervention Program headed by Mary Blair-Rogers, MD, has shown consistent decreases in key health metrics for kids, even as an upward nationwide trend in obesity shows no signs of slowing.
“The thing that really is the key to our success is giving the family the knowledge and tools to help them change behavior,” said Dr. Blair-Rogers. “Once they have that, they’re all in.”
Since the program at the South Sacramento Medical Center started in 2014, 70% of the 748 children enrolled in the 20-week program reduced their body fat mass, 53% reduced their blood pressure, 75% percent reduced their blood sugar levels, and 69% reduced their cholesterol.
That success has come even as the nationwide childhood obesity rate for 2- to 19-year-olds climbed from 14% of all U.S. children in 1999 to 18.5% in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity has many well-known negative consequences for children such as high blood pressure, diabetes, fatty liver disease, back pain, foot problems, and obstructive sleep apnea.
“The thing that really is the key to our success is giving the family the knowledge and tools to help them change behavior.”
Nora Garcia-Zepeda, MD, who was recently named chief of pediatrics at the Berkeley Medical Office that will open next year, said patients are currently enrolled in a pilot for the program in Richmond and Oakland.
“We plan to offer this program in Oakland, Richmond, Pinole, Alameda, and Berkeley,” said Dr. Garcia-Zepeda. “It empowers families and teaches our patients lifelong habits that are essential for prevention.”
A similar program called Healthy Eating, Active Living was started by Allison Collins, MD, in 2011. It operates out of Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara and serves patients in Milpitas, Mountain View, and Campbell.
Dr. Blair-Rogers said the entire family is treated in the Family Lifestyle Intervention Program, not just the children. It also addresses nutrition and obesity for families who have experienced trauma. The more trauma, the more likely they are going to seek food as a bandage to cope with it, she said. Learning to eat and prepare healthier meals requires ongoing commitment.
No Quick Fix
“A lot of times people are shocked at what they have to do, because there is no quick fix,” Dr. Blair-Rogers said. “They may have to talk to family members about what kinds of foods they are bringing into the house, and that can be hard on some people after a while.”
Entrance to the program starts with a visit to the pediatrician who charts height and weight.
“If we see a red flag, we start asking the questions about food and weight, and we tell them we have a program that incorporates healthy lifestyle changes that kids like,” Dr. Blair-Rogers said.
Goals, Positive Reinforcement
Patients in the program are supported by a pediatrician, health educators, and behavioral health specialists who offer goal setting, positive reinforcement, meal preparation tips, and advice on appropriate portion sizes. Patients go to classes every other week and get a coaching call the weeks they are not in class.
She said members in the program are taught that eating healthier and staying active are a lifelong practice that require patience and self-compassion.
“We teach them that if you fall off, all you have to do is restart.”