Helping kids develop healthy eating habits and active lifestyles are two of the main goals of Cox Monett Hospital's Committed to Kids program, which begins on June 8.
This will be the third summer, that the hospital offers its innovative eight-week pediatric weight management program to area children and their parents. In the first two years, the program grew from four to eight participants, and this summer, the hospital is looking to double participation again.
Nancy Ridgley, the hospital's community wellness director, developed the Committed to Kids program and now oversees it with the assistance of Lauren Holland, community wellness educator.
Ridgley refers to the Committed to Kids program as a "family affair." At least one parent or guardian must agree to attend each weekly session with their child.
Each week, the group meets for an hour and a half group session that involves the children and their parents. At the start of the session, each family member weighs in and turns in their weekly log book where they write down what they eat and the activities they engage in.
The group sessions involve discussions with a behaviors counselor or a nutrionist and an activity.
"We play a game of some sort," said Ridgley. "We all engage in some activity and the kids are having so much fun they don't know how hard they're working. We want to teach them that activity can be fun.
"We don't call it exercise; we call it activity," added Holland.
Sessions focus on behavior changes that promote healthy choices such as developing fitness habits and learning skills and techniques helpful in changing behaviors that lead to overeating and inactivity.
Committed to Kids utilizes "The Stoplight Diet" that divides foods into green, yellow and red categories.
"Green foods are anytime foods, yellow foods are sometimes foods and you can have very little of the red foods," said Ridgley.
By week four of the eight-week program, participants have learned to look at food labels and can easily determine which foods are green, yellow or red based on their nutritional content.
Goal setting is also an important part of the Committed to Kids program. Each week, the children and adults set goals for themselves, which are reviewed at the following week's session.
"This is very different from an adult weight management program," explains Holland. "It's kept very positive. It's a feel good program, but the kids are still setting goals and making behaviors changes."
Each of the weekly sessions includes a healthy snack. This year, the snacks have been chosen from recipes that appear in the "Deceptively Delicious" cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld, the wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld. During the seventh or eighth session of the program, the kids will actually learn how to prepare healthy foods.
According to Ridgley, a big part of the program is having a licensed professional counselor working with the families. Brad Ridenour serves as the program's counselor and is very effective in communicating with the parents and the children during group sessions.
In addition, the parents and children are encouraged to e-mail or call Ridgley or Holland with any questions about the program in between the weekly sessions.
"We make ourselves available," said Ridgley. "I get e-mails asking 'Can I have this?' or 'Can I eat this?' It's been good."
Tim and Beth Reynolds and their son, Brendan, completed Committed to Kids last year and are still using the tools they learned through the program.
"We liked the program very well," said Beth Reynolds. "It gave us practical things we could use at home like reading labels and activities we can do as a family."
Committed to Kids is an offshoot of the hospital's Cardiac Kids program. Through Cardiac Kids, Cox Monett Hospital goes into the fifth grade classes at 12 area schools and screens students for height, weight and blood pressure. With the permission of parents, students can also be screened through a lipid profile.
The program also includes a fifth grade class assembly and an evening class where students and their parents learn about healthy lifestyles and the importance of activity.
Currently, Monett, Mt. Vernon, Pierce City, Verona, St. Lawrence, Aurora, Shell Knob, Purdy, Exeter, Sarcoxie, Marionville and Miller schools participate in the Cardiac Kids program.
Based on the screenings conducted through Cardiac Kids, Cox Monett discovered that 40 percent of area fifth graders were at risk for becoming obese or overweight. It was these statistics that motivated Ridgley to develop the Committed to Kids program.
When asked the reasons behind the rise in childhood obesity, Ridgley and Holland agree that it's a problem of poor eating habits and limited activity.
"It's our society. Everything is catered to their fingertips," said Holland. "They don't have to move."
According to Ridgley, the success of the Committed Kids program lies in the attitude of the parents.
"If the mom and dad buy into it, that's where you have the success," said Ridgley. "It's a lifestyle and a decision to make changes with activity and meal planning. Never do I tell anyone it's easy but it is doable.
"We give them the information and the tools and they have to work the other part," adds Ridgley. "If they can take what they've learned and keep after it, that's when the success comes."
The Committed to Kids program is geared toward children age 10 to 14. To be eligible for the program, a child must be in at least the 85th percentile of their target weight.
The deadline to register for this summer's sessions is June 1. For more information or to register, call Ridgley at 354-1280. Schools that would like more information about the Cardiac Kids program, can call Holland at 236-2596.